Tag Archives: Mystery

Don’t Let Go

[3.5 stars]

You have to love a film that can suck you in early and then drag you along, guessing, right till the end. Writer/director Jacob Estes (The Details) delivers a driving suspense thriller that keeps going right up to the final credits. And that’s what you want from a ride like this. No time to really think. No slow moments to lose the momentum.

David Oyelowo (The Midnight Sky) is the primary driver of the story. His ability to give us a tough cop with a heart and screwed up family is really wonderful. He’s propelled through the story by his niece, Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time), who’s entertaining, but not entirely on the same level. Some of that is the writing and some the directing, but a good portion of it is on her. It’s a subtle role and she doesn’t always have the levels under control. Still, their relationship is compelling enough to keep it all going.

When you need a solid distraction of a good mystery with a bit of woo-woo mechanics, this one is definitely worth the time.

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Deadwater Fell

[3 stars]

David Tennant (Staged) plays a great sociopath. He can go from affable to cold in a split second. But the interesting aspect of this 4-parter is that you don’t know if he is involved with the crime or not till near the end. That’s a credit not just to Tennant but also to writer Daisy Coulam (Grantchester) and the somewhat less storied director Lynsey Miller.

The series itself has a familiar tenor…small Scottish village experiences a tragedy and all the secrets come spilling out as the seams that bind the residents together fall apart. It’s a tried and true formula that has been echoed across the globe for entertainment, but particularly around the UK.

While Tennant is the the better known face in the cast, he’s part of a great ensemble. Cush Jumbo (Vera) is his primary foil, even though it is Anna Madeley (The Children) who plays his wife. And Matthew McNulty (Doctor Who), as Jumbo’s partner, has his own path to forge. Around the periphery is Maureen Beattie (The Decoy Bride) as Tennant’s mum. The interplay of this group is what drives the four episodes to their soul grinding end.

As dark as the story is, it is compelling. The plot isn’t over-stretched and the performances all combine into a wonderful Greek chorus. It isn’t the best mystery, but it is a solid distraction and very much of its sub-genre.

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A Couple Forensic Mysteries

I recently saw a couple of procedurals, each with their own twist on the form. Both are really quite good.

Traces
The main, and impressive, aspect of this 6-parter is the naturalistic dialogue of the specialists and the police. Other characters are more in keeping with a dramatic mystery, but when the experts talk, it feels real rather than forced or contrived. Led by the young but rising Molly Windsor as a very damaged survivor, we follow three crimes that influence one another. With Laura Fraser (The Loch), Jennifer Spence (Bletchley Circle: San Francisco), Martin Compston (The Aftermath),  and Vincent Regan (Lockout) in some of the primary roles to keep it moving, the story manages a range of characters and complications. It also provides a nice forensics course and openings for a following season without feeling like they haven’t wrapped up what they needed to in the first. With the great Val McDermid providing the initial idea and guidance to show creator and writer Amelia Bullmore, the quality is built-in.

Traces Poster

Pembrokeshire Murders
I don’t usually like true-crime based mysteries. They far too often come off as crude re-enactments or thin recountings of fact. This three-parter, however, just comes across as any BBC well-told mystery. The structure is a bit rushed as its main audience already knows the outcomes, but it is all done in very dramatic (as in original fiction style) ways so that even those of us who don’t know about these murders stay riveted on the discoveries and results. Luke Evans (Blitz) is the center of the story, though he’s surrounded by a solid cast.

 

The Little Things

[3.5 stars]

This dark little mystery is brought to you via a triumvirate of talent. Led by Denzel Washington (Equalizer 2) and backed up by Rami Malek (Papillon) and Jared Leto (Blade Runner 2049), this is a steadily paced tale of justice and redemption. While there are numerous smaller roles, the movie is really these three. Washington provides the quiet, intense gravitas while Malek brings the youthful intensity and Leto…well, Leto brings the crazy.

John Lee Hancock wrote and directed this tale of a serial killer stalking 1990’s LA. And while it is quite clever, you can get rather far ahead if you try. Fortunately, that doesn’t really matter as confirmation feels just as good as surprise because of how the story unfolds. It isn’t so much a police procedural as it is one of introspection and personal demons.

Enjoy the ride of this one, and be prepared to contemplate the outcomes and revelations. It is a story that is very much of its time, but not necessarily an antidote for any of the issues. But it isn’t about corruption so much as a drive for doing the right thing to the exclusion of all else, and the cost of failing that mission.

The Little Things Poster

Star Trek: Discovery (series 3)

[3 stars]

In its third season, and practically third incarnation, Discovery has finally bridged the divide that has separated two sets of fandom for decades by dropping Trek characters into a Star Wars-like universe. The highly anticipated third launch of this show starts off with a bang and quickly resets the style, sensibility, and characters … yet again. Has any show changed this much series to series other than Fringe (and even that had some consistencies) or The OA (had it been allowed to continue)?

I actually rather enjoyed the first season. There was some daring darkness and an attempt to remake the franchise into something new. The second season was a bit more confused. Interesting, but confused. Character motivations changed, the politics and focus shifted. The outcome and climax were a bit rushed and not entirely satisfactory. However, that finale opened the door for the series to completely leapfrog all known Trek canon and forge their own path.

And that brings us to the current series, 900 years in the future and several hundred years beyond any known story. There are immediate references to past events setting up mysteries and possible eddies from the time jump to keep us anchored. But the most notable aspect is how changed Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael is. Her entire demeanor has shifted. By the end of the  second episode, many others from the crew will have begun down new paths as well. Michelle Yeoh (Last Christmas), in particular, is being set up for some incredible fun.

But, of course, these shifts created a problem for the series…it had to start all over again. With the characters, with the plots, and with the Federation. So, after a solid 2-part opening it devolves for a good part of the season into providing stories for these new beginnings which are wrapped up in Star-Trek-easy confrontations and solutions to get them on the path.

While some characters are jettisoned, others, like Oded Fehr (Resident Evil), Ian Alexander (The OA), and newcomer Blu del Barrio bring some new life to the show. Their insertion into the story is forced at times, but all provide new directions. Admittedly, this is also often at the cost of not getting to see some of the characters we’ve already invested in as much as we’d like to. And with all these encapsulated stories everything comes across as a bit too easy and fast to resolve because they have limited time to get it all done in one episode and/or one season. And the big mystery is scarily bad, hand-wavy science, and the entire season is overly earnest, in that very Trek way, particularly near the end of the season.

But, ultimately, this season is a brave and interesting choice for the show. It definitely feels like something new and unique in the Trek ouvre, and it’s relatively self-contained as a new jumping off point. The real question now is, can they build on it rather than panicking and remaking the show yet again in the fourth season?

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The Flight Attendant

[3 stars]

Watching trainwrecks is not something that typically entertains me. Self-destruction is neither funny nor darkly fascinating. So I went into Flight Attendant with a huge deal of caution and concern because Kaley Cuoco’s (Authors Anonymous) flight attendant is the embodiment of self-destruction. So why did I stick with it? Because it’s apparent that there are reasons for her actions (which we slowly get to learn) and because the show sets up a series of nice mysteries and suspense to carry you along. In other words the self-destruction is a symptom of a bigger, human story, not the focus of humor, derision, or weird life lesson in and of itself.

Cuoco is also surrounded by some fabulous talent who keep the series going. Michael Huisman (The Age of Adaline), Zosia Mamet (Girls), Michelle Gomez (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Doctor Who), T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy), Rosie Perez (Birds of Prey), and Merle Dandridge (Greenleaf) are chief among them, though there are many more over the 9 episodes.

This series could have been an episode or two shorter and been the better for it, in my opinion. The ongoing trainwreck of Cuoco’s character gets repetitive and loses sympathy as it continues on past bottom. And, frankly, some of the surprises just… aren’t. But the ride is highly bingeable, and the interactions and humanity of it all are surprising. But you do have to strap yourself in for a crazy ride full of mystery, sex, violence, and a mountain of bad choices. And, ultimately, it’s set up nicely for a new season with entirely different parameters.

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Queens of Mystery

[3 stars]

A delightfully wry and witty, semi-cozy mystery with an 80s TV vibe, down to its washed out color pallet. Add in a narrative riff like Pushing Daisies, carried by Juliet Stevenson (Atlantis), and you’re set for an amusing evening with some deadly serious murders.

The series spins around Olivia Vinall (Roadkill) and her three mystery writing aunties. The trio of surrogate moms includes an amusingly and uncharacteristically edgy Julie Graham (Bletchley Circle: San Francisco).

The series creator, Julian Unthank, wrote for several seasons of Doc Martin which should give you some sense of the level of humor. The show is full of silly characters, complex tales, and one over-arching mystery surrounding Vinall’s parents. Frustratingly, that mystery is left very much in its box, though they play around the edges of it the entire series. It’s a short season of three 90 minute stories, but the individual stories are all engaging and I am looking forward to seeing what they’ve got when they return.

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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.

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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