Tag Archives: Mystery

The Last Letter From Your Lover

[3 stars]

Yeah, up front, this is a sappy and manipulative movie by design. And I’m fine with that. Director Augustine Frizzell aimed the adaptation squarely at romantics, no others need apply. The story cleverly follows two couples from different periods through the lens of discovered letters and the mystery and curiosity they invoke.

In the 60s we follow a married woman discovering a life and love she didn’t even know was possible. But the relationship between Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian) and Callum Turner (Emma.) comes across as more an act of desperation rather than a great love affair. Part of that is the period acting, but part is simply the lack of chemistry between the two. Given that our window to them is through letters, it could be a style choice to make it reflect more of a written romance; but many of the scenes are clearly flashbacks so that distance isn’t consistent.

On the other hand, Felicity Jones (The Midnight Sky) and  Nabhaan Rizwan (1917), in current times, are completely compelling as the inevitable couple that Jones refuses to acknowledge. Their mental and emotional dance is instantly tangible, even though neither knows quite what to do about it. We invest in them immediately and want them to succeed.

Outside of the main couples, Joe Alwyn (A Christmas Carol) plays the suitable cad of a husband for Woodley to react against. And the late Ben Cross turns in one of his final performances with a sweet and sad depth that carries all the emotion you wish the couple had had in their younger incarnations.

So find someone you really care about who can appreciate the movie for what it is, and curl up together. It will leave you happy to be in love and not unentertained.

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Jolt

[3 stars]

Kate Beckinsale (Love  & Friendship) has made a portion of her career playing tough fighters in poorly scripted movies (can we talk Underworld?). And here we are again in an obvious franchise play with a script that is just as often good as it is, well, not.

This isn’t a story with a lot of surprises, just a lot of clever quips and many fun fights. Jai Courtney (Honest Thief) serves as catalyst for Beckinsale’s Lindy with a sort of guilelessness. And Bobby Cannavale (Thunder Force) and Lavern Cox (Promising Young Woman) provide a weird, almost believable cop duo. And while you’d expect the addition of Stanley Tucci (Supernova) and Susan Sarandon (The Calling) to elevate the story some, they’re just there to have fun.

For a first script by Scott Wascha’s it isn’t unwatchable, just occasionally cringey (especially the prologue). And director Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) manages to keep it all moving along with just enough character to the action. The result is a hyper-real tale of female power, not unlike, though with considerably less finesse and panache, as Gunpowder Milkshake or Sin City. It isn’t great, but it is definitely diverting and, if you can handle the violence, entertaining.

I’d love to see where they could take this story and if they can expand on the universe in a way that makes sense. Certainly they’ve queued it up to be an ongoing black-ops series. Time will tell, but at least this movie is relatively self-contained (and with a tag during the credits) in a way that doesn’t leave you hanging.

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Bosch (series finale)

[4 stars]

There is nothing more wonderful for a show than to go out on a high, and Bosch most definitely did. In many ways, this was their best season yet, though it stood and relied on all the underpinnings of the previous 6.

Titus Welliver (Escape Plan 2: Hades) embodied Connelly’s detective. He created a tough, thoughtful man, driven by justice more than rules, but very specific about when he’s willing to color outside the lines.

Supported by Jamie Hector as his slightly messed up partner and Amy Aquino (The Lazarus Effect) as his strong but besieged Captain, he’s navigated multiple crimes and corruption, joy and tragedy. Lance Reddick (Sylvie’s Love) as the Chief of Police certainly contributed to both sides of that equation over time. And, as comic relief (often with more than a little edge) Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins as the OG detective partners in the room make the best old married couple on TV.

Madison Lintz grew with the show as Bosch’s daughter. We got to watch her find her feet as an actor and a character. By the end, she has found her footing, with the surprising help of Mimi Rogers, and has blended the best of Bosch and her mother.

There is little doubt where the series had to end, given some of the changes that were made when it was adapted. Both readers and watchers will feel a sense of completion with the arc, regardless of how they came to it. Despite a number of parallel threads running through the season, all are tied up nicely (and one perhaps a bit too conveniently, but was necessary for dramatic effect). And there is still room for it to go forward if they execute on the rumors that are circulating. Suffice to say, if you enjoy police procedural, this is one of the best done in a long time. It is, in some ways, the male counterpart to Prime Suspect, but with a very different perspective and a very different set of flaws.

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Lupin (parts 1 & 2)

[4 stars]

In an entertainment landscape where we’ve been trained to want and expect chases, explosion, and gunfights, it’s so nice to have a high-concept mystery show again that is about tension and cleverness. I know there are others out there, but this feels new and different, even if it’s based on 100 year old books.

I will admit, the main core of the fight that Omar Sy (Inferno) wages against the truly repellant Hervé Pierre got a little tiresome at points during the sequence. But I also admit that by the end of the second part, it all paid-off wonderfully.

Where the first part focuses on the crime and revenge, the second focuses more on the people around Lupin and the bonds that hold them. Getting to see some of the backstory and expansion of characters like Antoine Gouy and Clotilde Hesme (The Returned) was great fun. And the continued development of Soufiane Guerrab’s (Moloch) put-upon detective becomes a wonderful evolution in the tale.

Much like the original books, the story feels very “managed,” for lack of a better word. It is relatively easy to get ahead of it all well before the end. The clues are there in both the script and structure. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Lupin is about the pay-off and the fun; it has both. And a third part on the way that I am hoping will help it break free of the current main story and move on to a new mystery. Honestly, this one has played out and continuing it would devolve into bad telenovella territory, regardless of how interesting the characters are. In the meantime, if you haven’t discovered or tried Lupin yet, queue it up.

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Moloch

[3.5 stars]

Part of the fun of this series is that you’re never quite sure what it is nor how it will play out. Police procedural, investigative journalism, psychological drama, or supernatural horror?

The story spins around two main characters. Psychologist Olivier Gourmet and newbie journalist, Marine Vacth. Both have complex and dark backstories and a challenging present. And both deliver layered performances. Not always sympathetic but ultimately believable, though that isn’t always clear at the time.

Three minor characters also come into play. Alice Verset, Marc Zinga, and Soufiane Guerrab (Lupin). We learn less about each of these individuals than I’d have liked, but it’s all sufficient to purpose. Only Zinga’s character grated; the script forces him onto a path that is more than a little questionable.

But overall this is a dark, fun ride. And the series is self-contained, leaving it feeling fully resolved. Which isn’t to say it’s all tied up with a nice little bow, simply that all the important elements have natural conclusions and the open questions are fun to contemplate.

3 Seasons, 2 Detectives,1 Arc Each (Balthazar v Professor T.)

[3 stars and 4 stars]

Finding new detective procedurals is a joy. Not too long ago I found two and binged through their seasons: one French and one Flemish. They both feature quirky main leads who untangle the untanglable. Both have rich fantasy lives that inform their path to the truth. And both have histories that affect their overall personality for good and ill, as well as providing an overall arc for their respective series.

However, while each resolves their histories over a three season arc, one series succeeds wildly and the other…not so much. They make for an interesting comparison.

Tomer Sisley as the titular Raphaël Balthazar and Koen De Bouw (Cordon, Salamander) as Jasper Teerlink, aka Professor T., are polar opposites in personality, but equals in intellectual strength. Each sees what no one else does and often finds the information by interacting in their own private fantasy worlds. Balthazar imagines talking to his morgue guests; conversing with them to understand their story. Professor T. uses fantasy to navigate a world too painful for his senses and predilections while his sharp mind recognizes the smallest muscle twitch or misspoken word that reveals the clues.

Both characters find solace in fantasy due to traumas in their past…which keeps them from any real connection in the present. Balthazar, the death of his fiancée, Professor T., the death of his father. Their arcs pave the path to normalcy, or at least the chance at happiness. And through it they interact with a host of great characters. But both shows also took left turns in their 3rd seasons, and this is where their quality and the satisfaction as a viewer diverged for me.

Professor T. is a brilliantly conceived mystery that slowly reveals itself and who’s full explanation is held off till near the last minutes of the series. From the first episode, they knew where they were going and incrementally took us there. Though the third season takes a massive left turn, it is all within the framework and feels possible in that world, if a little unbalancing at first. And the shift was necessary in order to start the final downhill ride to the revelations. But through it all, T remains T. His façade begins to crack, but in the way someone reaching their crisis point might given what he is dealing with. Admittedly, some of the cast changes in the final season were unfortunate, but even that works itself through. You arrive at the end with a true sense of completion and satisfaction. The writers played fair and the story was fulfilled.

Balthazar seemed to have a similar construction, but frankly their third season didn’t just turn left, it went off the rails. Characters began acting wildly differently, and the overall mystery became something so banal and obvious as to be disappointing. And, worse, they had to leave it on a potentially never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger. (Since then a fourth season has been greenlit.) It reminded me of nothing less than the third season of Forever Knight when a German production company came in and destroyed the show because they felt they knew better than the creators and fans as to what it should be. (Suffice to say that show got cancelled at the end of the season, and the production company, in a slap in the face to the fans, went scorched earth on it all.) While Balthazar wasn’t unwatchable in this past season, it felt wrong from beginning to end. It became more violent. More bloody. His behavior more outrageous and more ridiculous. And the writing really slipped. Some of it made sense, but not as a whole and the show lost what made it so interesting and fun: an intelligent and broken rake trying to find solace and redemption through his work and in the world. At the end we’re left hanging and frustrated, and feeling not a little cheated.

I still recommend both series if you haven’t found them yet. They each have their charm and entertainment. Just be aware that Balthazar may not, ultimately, pay off while T. most definitely does. And if you need any more proof of that, Professor T. has been remade in German and in a brand new UK version that has just released, while no one had done so for Balthazar.

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Shadow in the Cloud

[4 stars]

Talk about an unexpected thrill-ride from beginning to end. Roseanne Liang directed and co-wrote this, with Max Landis (Bright), as her Sophomore offering. And it is damned impressive.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Tom and Jerry) dominates this film. From the opening credits she embodies her strongest female role since her Kick-Ass days. The story is tightly focused on Moretz, her actions and her reactions. As her character is slowly revealed, we are constantly re- evaluating what we think we know. There are several male characters, but who cares? They exist solely as fodder to Moretz’s tale.

In the center of it all, acting as engine to the machine, is one of the biggest McGuffins I’ve seen in a while…simply because it is so iconic. The movie opens with a war-time cartoon that sets up this horror piece of the story. If you’ve ever seen Nightmare at 20000 Feet you have a sense of what’s coming (or think you do anyway).

The rest is an unbelievably tense ride. Like Pitch Black, once this one starts downhill, it goes at breakneck speed and never relents. And it ends on a hugely satisfying tableau.

Make time for this one. It is ostensibly a horror film, but it is so much more than that as well, even managing to pay homage to the WACs and WASPs of WWII. I can’t wait to see what Liang offers up next if this was any indication of her ability and eye.

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The Nevers (series 1)

[4 stars]

The Nevers is probably the most complex and dense new world created for genre TV since Game of Thrones. The six episodes are so packed as to be, at times, exhausting to keep up with. But it is worth every gasp and bit of effort. If I have any real criticism of the show it’s that it should have had at least 8 episodes to get started, but I loved every minute we did get.

Originally put together by Joss Whedon, but then carried forward by other ex-Buffy crew Douglas Petrie (Daredevil) and Jane Espenson (Jessica Jones, Husbands), the show will constantly keep you guessing as to motive and plot. No mystery is held back too long and the overall story is wonderfully unique, on television at least.

The story is led by Laura Donnelly (The Fall) with amazingly controlled intensity and depth. She’s surrounded by a group of wonderful performers, some known and some less so (at least in the States). In the latter category, Ann Skelly, Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s DemonsSt. Trinian’s: Legend of Fritton’s Gold), Rochelle Neil (Terminator: Dark Fate), and Amy Manson (Being Human) rise to the top, but are far from the list that should be acknowledged.

And then there are the better known faces. Among them James Norton (Grantchester), Olivia Williams (The Father), Nick Frost (Truth Seekers), and Pip Torrens (Roadkill, and so much more) are the ones that immediately come to mind. And then there is a great smaller role by Claudia Black. Again, that is far from the full number of recognizable faces and great characters there are to enjoy and revile.

I will admit, the show isn’t perfect. Particularly some of the sound mix, which tends to mask the dialogue which is often tossed off so casually as to be too quiet or so heavily accented as to be a challenge (and I watch a LOT of British TV). And as I said, the story is dense and, at times, hard to track all the various threads when you’ve a week between drops. This last problem can be averted by binging (or rewatching) which I will certainly be doing at some point. Some of the plot is inscrutable until later in the season because…secrets. And that one I can live with. And some of the plot is just left hanging due to the lack of time to resolve all the threads.

All that said, it’s worth the effort. Especially true if you like watching strong women (in all kinds of ways) in surprising roles. The society very well mapped to the history we know when England was doing everything in its power to maintain an Aristocracy in control, an Empire cowed, and women in their place. And the finale (reminiscent of Dollhouse’s two season finales) which reveals and confirms much while it whipsaws you in wonderful ways.

I have no idea where the second series of this show will go, but I can’t wait to see what they do with it. The finale raised at least as many questions as it answered. But the main point is that if you haven’t dived into this world yet, make time for it.

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Beforeigners

[3 stars]

We can debate under which grouping of the speculative fiction umbrella this series belongs, but there shouldn’t be a doubt that it is solid spec fic in the best sense of the term. Beforeigners takes the time-travel premise and turns it into an entertaining social metaphor of our times. It’s all a bit offbeat, but it takes itself seriously as a police procedural, without ever getting too earnest. But what would you expect from the co-creators of Lilyhammer (Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin)?

Admittedly, there is a bit of rationalization you’ll need to do in order to buy some of the premises. Specifically, whether Stone Age people could adapt and learn modern languages and social/business structures, but the show allows for a several year learning ramp after the set-up. And the big mystery, though not completely explained in this first series, is definitely more complex than it seems at the top.

The policing duo at the heart of the story is Nicolai Cleve Broch (Ragnarok) and Krista Kosonen (Blade Runner 2049). Each has their own personal tales running in parallel and with inevitable clashes into their professional lives. And neither path is entirely easy or straight-forward in its direction. But both performances are nuanced and fun to watch. Kosonen especially.

There are some other nice supporting characters, like Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir’s (Justice League) and Ingunn Beate Øyen, each of who impact Kosonen in different ways.

Ultimately, there is a lot of set up without a huge amount of resolution in the 6 episodes. However, it feels satisfying and promises a huge meal into the second series (in production now). So if you’re looking for something new and different, this may be the series for you.

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Sisyphus: The Myth (Sijipeuseu: The Myth)

[3 stars]

Deterministic, mutable, or multiverse? Yes, I speak of time travel and timelines. This is the central question that drives the momentum of the plot in Sisyphus. It is rarely discussed that way, but it underlies almost all of the decisions. Which is also part of the problem at times…when characters only take part of that into account as they make their decisions. And the part they take is often purely emotional rather than logical.

Ultimately, it makes the story primarily about selfishness and greed even through it revolves around a growing romance between Cho Seung-woo and Park Shin-Hye, not to mention the fate of the world. So much could have been avoided at a number of points if characters had been willing to sacrifice, even if only temporarily, for the rest of the world. But they don’t. Is it human? Maybe, but it sometimes felt more than a little convenient for the plot rather than real. Of course, in a deterministic universe, it made complete sense, though it still got frustrating.

But that aspect aside, as it quickly would move off those moments and into the next challenges, this South Korean sci-fi epic is worthy of its 16, hour+ long episodes driven forward by that conundrum. And it stretches out the answers, relatively fairly, till the very last minutes.

In addition to the central pair there are a number of supporting roles. Most notable are the creepy Byeong-cheol Kim (and the kid who plays his younger self is just as creepy), and the ever morphing Dong-il Sung, who’s character evolves over and over through the series. Also, Hye-in Jeong has an interesting path and part to play. There are many others over this long epic tale, but most are playing standard kinds of parts that simply move the plot along. And the plot, and the questions it raises, are the main attraction here. What is nice about the format is that it has room for the story and characters to breathe and grow rather than just having to rush from conflict to conflict.

Admittedly, this is no Dark. However, it is a complex story with a lot of solid logic…and a few fudges. But it also doesn’t try to explain everything in dialogue, allowing the last of the puzzle pieces to be yours to assemble; particularly during the final couple episodes. If you enjoy time travel adventure and Eastern film tropes (cause there are definitely some of those as well), as well as a peek into Korean culture amid the flying bullets and chase scenes, this is a show worth your time. It isn’t perfect and it gets a bit sappy and even silly at times, but it managed to keep me coming back week after week for the new episodes. And you don’t even have to wait now that they’ve all dropped. The best news is that the story is complete unto itself; so no waiting for a conclusion either.

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