Tag Archives: Mystery

Truth Seekers

[3 stars]

Nick Frost (Slaughterhouse Rulez) and Simon Pegg (Inheritance) have a genius for making the absurd not just palatable, but also relatable. Whether it’s the insanity of Shaun of the Dead or the intense silliness of Hot Fuzz, they find the humanity and let you connect with it.

Truth Seekers is right in line with their approach and sense of humor. Frost’s wifi serviceman, moonlighting as a ghost hunter across the English countryside, gets an unexpected partner with unpredictable abilities and a real mystery to tackle. It’s funny between the jumps, and clever in its construction. Even the rough edges of the acting and production are as conscious as the crisp horror they inject at regular intervals.

Frost’s associates Samson Kayo and Emma D’Arcy make an odd trio, but play off one another well. Kayo’s off-hand delivery is particularly amusing. And supporting the story and the ghost hunters from the sidelines, Susan Wokoma (Enola Holmes) and Malcolm McDowell (Bombshell) make for one of the oddest comedy duos ever put together. And, yet again, it works. Both the material and the talent all come together in unexpected and entertaining ways. Surprise guests willing to go odd places, like Kelly MacDonald (Puzzle), add to the fun as well.

Truth Seekers isn’t going to make your best-ever list. But this initial series pulls together nicely for a fun ride and with possibilities to come. And at 22 minutes a pop, it’s a nice bite-size treat for your evenings. It may even stand up to rewatching for many folks as it’s full of reveals as it rushes towards its end while winding all the threads into whole cloth.

Truth Seekers Poster

Raised by Wolves

[3 stars]

Real science fiction is hard to come by. And, frustratingly, for all the solid bits and excellent start to this series, the writing ultimately makes some cheap choices and unforgivable mistakes in logic that takes this challenging bit of story and diminishes it.

So let me slap this around for a  couple moments before I move on to the faint praises. For instance, would a high tech world, which shows a propensity for complete body scans, rely only on ID cards and visual confirmations rather than DNA for their approvals? Or, how does a kid raised away from Earth acquire an accent. Any accent? Silly stuff like that could have been easily avoided, but they’re typical mistakes made by lesser writing in the genre. And then there’s the overall arc, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Now on to what’s good. The opening two episodes of this story are jaw-dropping. While riffing on several known plots like Battlestar Galactica, Brave New World, and any apocalyptic tale of Earth, it manages to build out some unique aspects. And it is quickly obvious there is a much larger story that may not take the path you think. All great things. In fact, it sets up some truly unique approaches to some standard problems… and then sacrifices them all for all the obvious paths. I picked out every major plot point early on and, while there were some misdirects, ultimately had them prove out. I don’t say this as a brag…but as a lambast. I shouldn’t have been right. At least not on all of it.

If creator Aaron Guzikowski (Papillon) was going to create a tale of restarting civilization, why riff on and recreate or make manifest everything in Western society again? Especially when he’s so brilliantly wiped the slate clean? How much of the paths taken were at the urging of Ridley Scott (Alien: Covenant), who directed the opening episodes and produced the series along with his son, Luke Scott (Morgan), I can’t say. But the issues I have are echos of many of Ridley’s stories of the past decade.

OK, that said, there is some strong acting to prop it all up. Amanda Collin as Mother and Abubakar Salim (Strike) as Father take on difficult challenges well. Even Winta McGrath, playing young Campion, brings some nice credibility (if also his improbable accent). So too do Felix Jamieson’s (Summer of Rockets) Paul and the complicated Jordan Loughran’s (Emerald City) Tempest.

However, Paul’s “parents” don’t fare as well. Niamh Algar is written with very confusing choices and slippery, plot-necessitated motives. And Travis Fimmel (Warcraft) is just completely miscast. He’s so over-the-top as to be distracting and not particularly credible for his path. Someone more like Jason Isaacs would have been better. What was needed was a strong, but damaged, intellect with the capacity for unexpected violence. A crazy man, however he gets there, just gets boring.

But what burns me the most about this opening season is the lack of answers and the number of cliff-hangers after 10 episodes. Frankly, it’s unforgivable to pay off nothing. It’s a desperate plea to get a series two, which I’m sure it will get, but I’d think twice about committing to the next round given the finale of this first. Basically, the series takes an interesting idea, chickens out in almost every respect, and refocuses on a more palatable, standard direction…and then doesn’t even have the balls to admit it with at least some resolutions.

Yes, I’m a bit conflicted. The production design and values are top notch. Some of the ideas are wonderful. Even some of the moments and writing are solid. But, in my opinion, the overall impact was so much less than it could have been with braver choices. Your mileage may vary.

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A One Lane Mystery Road

I’ve grouped these two mystery series because they have some similarities. The common thread, despite the difference in country, is indigenous peoples. In fact, the main detective in both series represents this oft time side-lined culture. Interestingly, they have similar sensibilities, though very different tenors.

One Lane Bridge

This is the inaugural series of what is somewhere between a rough-edged mystery, similar to many Northern England shows like Shetland or Hinterland, but with a bit of aboriginal mythos thrown in. It has a few recognizable faces, if you watch New Zealand shows. The basic story is a simple family murder. Dominic Ona-Ariki (Filthy Rich) gets it as his first case in the remote town to which he’s moved.

Among the faces you might know are Joel Tobeck (The Blake Mysteries: Ghost Story), Alison Bruce (Top of the Lake), and Michelle Langstone (800 Words). They also have some of the more complicated story lines, though they aren’t the main focus of the story.

We don’t really get to know much of why Ariki’s there in series 1, nor much about his background. He does, however, solve the season’s mystery so nothing of importance is left hanging. But a lot is held back and many things are clearly queued up for a second series. Despite the grit and anger of it all, I’d be back to see what they can make of it. The characters are rich and full of stories.

Mystery Road

And speaking of grit and anger, this second season of the movie adaptation of this series is just full of it. Aaron Pedersen (The Code) returns as the swaggering, grumpy loner who’s trying to single-handedly clean up the Australian outback and northern coast. Tasma Walton (Cleverman) returns as his frustrated ex-wife and Sofia Helin (The Bridge) joins as one of the principle variables, which was certainly a draw for me.

This is a heavy feeling storyline of angry people and nefarious doings. But there are interesting characters and fascinating insights into culture that you won’t get anywhere else. I can’t take too much of it at once… the writing often makes choices for the convenience of the action, rather than what people would normally do, but it’s entertaining and even spiked with adrenaline at times.

One Lane Bridge Mystery Road Poster

Quirky Detectives

[3 stars]

Writing a good plot is only half the entertainment problem for on-screen mystery. The other problem is creating characters we are intrigued by and interested in watching. Sometimes it’s because we are gripped by their struggles or character (Prime Suspect, Vera), but more often we are pulled in by their foibles (Poirot, Morse/Endeavour, Monk). Three relatively new series fall very much in the latter category.

Professor T.

Koen De Bouw (Salamander) is a Belgian riff on Monk, for lack of a better description. But he’s less slapstick and more entertainingly tragic as he navigates the academic and criminal justice worlds. The mysteries are a mixed bag, but mostly just a vehicle for his journey toward healing from an initially unspecified tragedy.  Along with the hysterical Goele Derick as his department administrator, ex-student turned police detective, Ella Leyers, and ex-lover turned police DCI Tanja Oostvogels, along with a bunch of other recurring characters, he unravels suspicious deaths while trying to straighten out his life.

The result is both funny and poignant without getting too broad. It does, however, get more than a little strange in the presentation, as T’s inner life become fantasies that continually intrude on his waking life. It is a visual language and mystery all its own that we get to enjoy and examine as the show unspools. The result is somewhere between a cozy and a hard-core British mystery; never too violent to be uncomfortable nor too sanitized to be boring. And there are plenty of laugh out loud moments to keep it all going.

Bordertown

Like The Bridge, this show tackles cross-border/cross-cultural issues. In this case Finland and Russia. But rather than one long challenge, there are several shorter, multi-part mysteries that scaffold the story of the characters involved with some longer arcs to pull it together. It makes it all more digestible, and we never have to soak too long in any one tale of darkness and misery (hey, it’s Finland).

But because the main character, Ville Virtanen, is so amusingly off-beat, the darkness is counter-balanced and often kept at bay. But Virtanen is only half of the success of the show. Anu Sinisalo, as the ex-FSB turned Finnish cop has her own funny and scary peculiarities. And she sells them well. The two together become the epicenter of the swirling politics and mysteries that invade the smallish Finnish town on the border. The rest of the cast is solid as well, but without these two, it frankly wouldn’t work.

Deadwind

Another Finnish import, and with less of a quirky set of leads as more just broken humans. And, to be honest, somewhat broken writing; police procedure is not their forte. Pihla Viitala (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) unapologetically plays a grieving woman who’s skills as a parent are seriously suspect. What she does have going for her is drive and intuition. One of the nice things that sets this show apart is how the mysteries play out to the last moments of each season. However, getting there is often a lesson in frustration as we watch her step-daughter make one bad choice after another, and her partner ignore the facts and refuse to trust her for far too long. Basically, this is an imperfect but intriguing series. With better writing, they’d be really great, but they really don’t have that yet. Perhaps in the next series.

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

[3 stars]

It’s rare when a TV show makes the leap to big screen, even in limited fashion. Certainly Miss Fisher was a solid candidate, with great characters, delightful dialogue, incredible costumes, and fun mysteries. However, this leap wasn’t quite able to stick the landing.

The original series was huge fun and ended way too soon. What made it work was the combination of sass and characters. While Deb Cox (from the original show crew) retained the sass in the script, going global really robbed the story of the wide range of characters and interplay we were invested in. And, sadly, even for the characters that had returned, the magic just wasn’t there anymore. The tension of will they/won’t they between Essie Davis (Assassin’s Creed) and Nathan Page, which had been ramped up over 3 years plus the wait for this tale, didn’t feel satisfying, or even all that interesting. And new characters like Rupert Penry-Jones (Charlotte Gray) never built up any flesh on their bones.

The main issue is that director Tony Tilse pushed for more of an action movie pacing, moving from moment to moment with small quips from characters to stitch it together. It made for almost no character building…and with only two main characters that we knew, that meant almost no characters at all that were fleshed out for us to connect with. Basically, Tilse wasn’t able to navigate the leap to feature film from small screen directing for their first go-round.

The movie isn’t a total loss. It has some fun moments and Fisher in multiple (unnecessary and unexplained) costumes. The dialogue, when it works, is at the standard you’d expect and the vistas are filmed quite nicely. My disappointment/frustration was in the anticipation. I loved the original series, and still rewatch it. After such a long wait, this wasn’t the result I’d hoped for. Originally there were three or four movies planned, and certainly this first sets up another. Hopefully they have learned from this initial foray and can improve going forward…assuming they go forward.

Unknown Origins (Orígenes Secretos)

[4 stars]

One of the best geekfests since Deadpool, and considerably more down to earth. I could explain more, but it would give away the fun.

Director and co-writer David Galán Galindo walks a very difficult line to deliver an odd buddy-cop movie that somehow rides the border of absurd without ever quite losing control. And while a lot of that is due to the script, it is in large part thanks to his cast.

Brays Efe, begins as a clear riff on Jack Black, but evolves into his own, becoming someone quite a bit more as we learn about him and as the plot demands. And Verónica Echegui (Fortitude) starts off equally absurd, but quickly proves her abilities and status. Even Ernesto Alterio’s slightly gleeful and dedicated coroner pushes edges but never loses credibility. The story is helped by the solid center of Antonio Resines as the outgoing guard and the incoming Javier Rey, who are both more traditional detectives, thought at very different ends of their careers. Rey’s earnest nature provides ample foil for the rest of the cast while he finds his way.

Somehow the grabbag of strange characters comes together into something believable enough to entertain and be taken almost seriously. It is definitely more than the sum of its parts and aimed squarely at a particular kind of audience. While it may work generally, the more you know of the superhero or comic world, the more you will enjoy the tale. Anyone with a leaning in these areas should make time for this; you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and don’t miss the bonus scene at the end of the credits for a final treat…

Enola Holmes

[4.5 stars]

Was there ever any doubt that Millie Bobby Brown (Godzilla: King of Monsters) had the chops to carry a movie? And what a wonderful vehicle she has found. Not only does she own the screen with her charisma and chops, but her character drives the tale, pushing her brothers Mycroft and Sherlock to the periphery, making it a decidedly female-driven story.

Sam Claflin (Charlie’s Angels) is a perfectly uptight Mycroft, while Henry Cavill (Witcher) is the thoroughly self-absorbed, but surprisingly available Sherlock. Throw in Helena Bonham Carter (Ocean’s 8) as their rather unique mum, and you’ve a family to be reckoned with…and likely a good salary for a mental health professional. But all their performances are tightly controlled under Fleabag  director Harry Bradbeer’s entirely capable hands.

Despite these lofty names in her family, the story really focuses more on her adventures with the young Louis Partridge; Enola’s master-in-distress. The story manages to both lean into and avoid the young love tropes without making it insulting to either of them. And with Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim: Uprising) constantly at their heels to push along the danger, there are adventures to be had.

The cast is also chock full of other great talents to help buoy the film. Adeel Akhtar (Murder Mystery), Susan Wokoma (Crazyhead), Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve), and Frances de la Tour (The Lady in the Van) help fill out the film with known and unknown characters from the Holmesian universe.

But it isn’t just all fun and games (afoot). Enola Holmes is a timely flick, in more than one way…and the fun is watching all that play out. The adaptation from Nancy Springer’s series by Jack Thorne (Radioactive) is wonderfully on point for current needs. And the result is also an example of what Netflix can find when it really tries, though it’s a shame this never saw the big screen. I think this film could have found an audience. Certainly the cinematography was with the larger format in mind, though it plays perfectly well on a home setup.

Make time for this one, whether you’ve a young woman at home with you or not. It’s fun, wry, sly, and full of adventure; perfect for a light escape that won’t insult your intelligence. And to see Brown beginning to come into her own just adds to the icing on this slightly savory confection.

C. B Strike: Lethal White

[3 stars]

It’s been a circuitous route through previous series for the Strike detective agency, but by this fourth installment it’s finally on a solid course; the great soap opera mostly resolved. It’s still a bit unfocused as they continue to cram the scope of the books into the series, but it is feeling more thought through than, especially, the third sequence.

Tom Burke (The Souvenir) and Holliday Grainger (Tulip Fever) continue to develop both their individual characters and their relationship; professional and otherwise. The mystery is actually nicely intricate and fun, though resolved a bit too quickly and unfairly (in some ways). But the four episodes cover a lot of ground and many false starts, which keep it all fun. Because of the structure of the show, and the attitude, it isn’t always easy to know when information is accurate or not, but it does stay internally true to itself. I think, perhaps, my expectations at times were being set by other mysteries that would deal with situations differently.

I’m glad to see this show continuing. I hope they can keep up the quality and, more importantly, move the characters further along their paths without slipping back into the silly crap from before.

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