Tuesday 8 December 2020

ON NETFLIX - Ira Joel Haber has a comprehensive look at the current offering including PEAKY BLINDERS, OZARK, HAPPY VALLEY, MINDHUNTER, SHTISEL, MARCELLA, THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT and more....

Peaky Blinders

Editor's Note: I noticed this post on Ira's Facebook page and asked permission to reproduce it on this blog. It's a great summary of the currenNetflix offering.


What's playing on Netflix? I'll tell you what's playing. These are edited reviews from longer pieces but you'll get the jist. Great shows here.

Peaky Blinders (Creator: Steven Knight, UK, 2013- )
A five year deep dish series about a British crime family whose ascent from Gypsies to harsh crime and murder big wigs. Based on a real life gang and set in Birmingham beginning in 1919 these on the rise small time hoods are on the make led by the two heads of the family Tom played by the compelling actor Cillian Murphy and his aunt Polly played magnificently by the great Helen McCrory. Basically they are a psychotic group of miserable souls with none more miserable and psychotic than the oldest brother Arthur acted with scary realism by Paul Anderson. The whole clan are unbearable and brutal, great looking and sexy as hell and brilliant to watch. Their name Peaky Blinders supposedly comes from the caps they all wore with razor blades in the peaks ready at a moments notice to blind their opponents, but some historians call that inaccurate but do note that they were indeed fancy dressers The accents are thick and sometimes hard to understand, but you get use to it because the series is so visually reverting with thick skin plots that constantly surprise you. 

There are lots of stunning set pieces and watch how the cast walk and strut their stuff amid the dirty streets and rough and tumble factories and bars that they also run. The series makes use of contemporary music instead of time centered pieces and is highlighted by the title song by Nick Cave. The makers are particularly careful and accurate when it comes to the rich production details and the costumes. The whole thing is a sit up and take notice smack in the face show but not for everyone, the violence is unrelenting and bloody the betrayals are everywhere and then there are those haircuts.
Ozark (Creators: Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams, USA, 2017-19 )

“I had a very stressful day,” a character in this riveting 3-season show says to another character, and I could certainly understand this. The characters in this series about drug cartels, and a middle class family from Chicago who get swept up in it have stressful days and nights, and sometimes mornings and afternoons. The show opens in Chicago where Marty Byrde a financial advisor played wonderfully by Jason Bateman and his business partner are meeting with the head of a Mexican drug cartel played by the handsome and little seen actor Esai Morales. The family Byrde is made up of a cheating wife played with her usual greatness by Laura Linney (does any actress show nastiness and contempt better than her?) and their two children a girl 15 and a boy 13, which seems to be a prerequisite for television series these days. The villains are all over the place most of them are scary and evil and some can be found in places of justice and law enforcement. They are compelling and hard not to watch. 

The cast is full and rich with many actors unknown to me and some familiar like Harris Yulin, the fine Scottish actor Peter Mullan with a perfect Southern accent, The great British actress Janet McTeer who plays the cold as ice lawyer for the cartel, and Julia Gardner who is rough and raw as the daughter of a local small time crime family living out their trash lives in a trailer park. The violence is harsh and most of it is off camera but still there is enough shown that some can become rattled by it, there is hardly anyone left standing at the end of season 2. Brash, unconventional and startling.
Mindhunter (Creator: Joe Penhall, USA, 2017-19)
Anna Torv, Mindhunter

Deep and dark. This is a compelling series based on fact concerning the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Science Unit and the growth of it thanks to two of the agents who in the mid-70’s set out to interview and archive the stories of horrendous serial killers. Back then the term was not yet “invented” and we are there when the agents have their ah ha moment and give birth to the now familiar term. 

The series is set in many places around the country, but filmed mostly in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and is very talky, which might turn off some viewers, but I found it chewy and tangy. The series is also not graphic since none of the murders and crimes are shown, which also might be a turn off to all those network crime show viewers. The horror comes from their interviews with the killers and one of them Edmund Kemper a giant of a monster played by the terrific Cameron Britton is particularly scary.

Jonathan Groff who is known as a Broadway musical heartthrob and theatre star plays fictional Holden Ford a young and attractive instructor at the F.B.I. headquarters in Quantico Virginia Where he teaches bored young recruits on hostage negotiations. His name brings up two iconic figures for me Holden Caufield and John Ford. I might be projecting here, but since this is a project of the director David Fincher I might not be too far off the mark.

The other agent who is avuncular and opinioned is Bill Tench (another “real” fictionalized character played by Holt McCallany with great relish. The director David Fincher served as executive producer and directed the first two and last two episodes of season 1 and he is no stranger to dark material. I’m thinking especially of his trio of startling films Zodiac, Se7en and Fight Club all of which have troubled “heroes” and a great sense of place which this series also has. Highly recommended and cancelled.
Happy Valley (Creator: Sally Wainwright, UK, 2014-2016)
Without giving too much away I have to say that this crime police drama is one of the best I’ve seen. Set in a small Yorkshire town that is pretty but far from perfect, and cynically referred to by the citizens as “Happy Valley”. The writing and direction are top notch and the acting, while the acting is superb. Some of the actors I’ve seen before, including the lead Sarah Lancashire who plays a policewoman and who was also a detective before taking a leave of absence from the force to mend her broken heart and wounds. She is brilliant and this is one of the great performances I’ve recently seen.

She shares a cozy cluttered house with her recovering alcoholic sister played by the great Siobhan Finneran whom many will recognize from her days on “Downton Abbey” where she played the mean O’Brien. There is a kidnapping which sets up the entire series and the lead villain is ghastly and is played by James Norton who would go on to acclaim as the warm cuddly priest on “Grantchester” Here he is evil, dastardly and scary. He is also beautiful and sexy which adds to the mix and complicates our feelings. The series is written and directed by Sally Wainwright who knows her stuff and brings a strong amount of truth and dignity to all of his characters especially the women.
Shtisel (Creators: Yehonatan Indursky, Ori Elon , USA, 2013-2016)

A marvellous two season Israeli domestic series that takes a loving look at a close knit Orthodox Israeli family living in Jerusalem. There is plenty of gentle comedy mixed in with the pathos and drama and for someone like me, a lapsed Jew who wasn’t even bar mitzvahed this was a great chance to delve into this very secretive and much put upon community of Jews. At first I actually thought they had gotten members of the Orthodox community to be in it, but quickly realized that what I was seeing was a group of really terrific actors. Tops among them is the head of the large family Shulem Shtisel played by the great Israeli actor Doval’e Glickman and his youngest son Akiva played by the handsome Israeli actor Michael Aloni who is a big heartthrob in Israel and in my house. One of the main plot points of the series is getting Akiva married and his travails of dealing with the women the neighborhood matchmakers pick for him. The other big thing in his life is his inner battle to be an artist. A third season is coming.
Marcella (Creator: Hans Rosenfeldt, UK, 2016-)

This is a pretty good crime drama with lots of kinks and twists that should keep you watching. In this drama we have a tough troubled police detective on the British Metropolitan police force played very well by Anna Friel a little known actress at least in the USA. When the show opens she is trying to come to grips with her failed interracial marriage and her problems with her two teen children a boy and a girl who give more grief than love. She is also riddled with serious problems like uncalled for violence, blackouts and questionable police tactics and routines. 

Marcella is to put it mildly a mess and I stayed with it to the surprising nasty end. Marcella is no huggy cuddly heroine, in fact she can be downright scary and mean which also might be a turn off to some. Lots of loose ends and plot holes with this one, but as I said it’s a pretty good look at. With music that seems to be used in every British crime series and the usual heavy dose of pretty drone aerial shots of London that seems to be a prerequisite for these crime shows. You can skip the third season which I found disappointing.
Unorthodox (Creator: Anna Winger, USA, 2020)

The story is based on the memoirs of Deborah Feldman who left her strong and strict Orthodox Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn and fled to Berlin. The film is true to the basics of her story but is filled with much fiction. The lead is played by the remarkable Shira Haas as the unhappy new wive Etsy (Esther for short) who is miserable in the severe life of a woman in the community. 

With the help of a non Jewish piano instructor she takes off for Berlin to begin a new life, followed by her husband (a sweet but clueless man) and his troubled bully cousin Moishe who are determined to bring her back to Williamsburg. I should add that Etsy is also with baby and in conflict with her mother who also fled the community years earlier and who is also in Berlin living with her female lover. 

The rituals of the Hasidic community are richly detailed especially the wedding ceremony between Etsy and her husband Yanky, and should prove fascinating to Jews and non-Jews alike. Filmed in Berlin (It looks like Minneapolis) and Williamsburg. The folks behind the making of the film are mostly women including the director Maria Schrader.
Babylon Berlin (Creators: Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries, Hendrik Handloegten), Germany, 2017- )

28 hours of pure bliss and angst with a story line that is quite appalling, and should come as no surprise. Set in a teeming visually exciting Berlin of 1929 we know what is coming. The two main characters are a conflicted drug addled detective played by Volker Bruch scarred from fighting in the first world war and a sometime sex worker scarred from a life of bitter poverty who is also a stenographer but wants to become a detective played by Liv Lisa Fries. Both are superb, sexy, good looking and appealing and Hollywood should grab them up. Also terrific is Peter Kurth the spitting image of Sig Ruman as Bruch’s superior on the police force who is sometimes a friend and sometimes not. 

The series is complex and full of rich characters who look like they just stepped out of paintings by Kirchner, Grosz, Beckmann and Dix and adds to the visual blast and delight. The plot is dense and complex and sometimes made me feel lost and found but its always arresting and staggering in its labyrinths. There are some obvious touches like a few of the bad guys having scars and birthmarks as if we needed these visual signals to let us know just how vile they are. There are also plenty of homage’s and touches to the great masters of German silent and early cinema including Fritz Lang, Murnau, Weiner and Pabst along with some wicked and delicious Louise Brooks touches. 

The three seasons of course are loaded with politics, and the rise of the Nazi’s is subtle and not as loud and obvious as I thought it might be, but its still there in small and large touches. The series also has the look and feel of those old serials where the hero and heroine get themselves into outrageous situations and we wonder how will they survive that one, but in next weeks episode they do with much tongue in the cheek and there is a train chase at the end of the 2nd season that should take your breath away. The details and production values are rich and dense, with many brilliant and small touches like a quick shot of some orthodox Jews walking safely through the city, glistening nighttime cobblestone streets wet with recent rainstorms and dinners of goulash that you can almost smell. 

I’ve been told that this is the most expensive non-English language series ever made, and it looks it. There are stunning shots of the city as it was thanks to brilliant art direction and great digital special effects and costumes that are beautiful and accurate as far as I can tell. Sometimes the Art Deco and Art Nouveau interiors and set designs can be distracting because of their beauty and details which is a common complaint with many regarding period placed series. 

The 3rd season ends with many things up in the air and happily a 4th season is planned. Can’t let those magnificent sets go to waste. As a side note for those interested in this once great city I would recommend seeing if possible Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis from 1927 directed by Walter Ruttmann. This is a documentary that takes place during one day from morning to night in the city and I was fortunate to see it in the theatre a few years ago with a live orchestra accompanying it. It is available on DVD.
Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame) (Creator: Joe Barton, UK, 2019)

This is a one season stunning 8 part intimate epic about the trials and tribulations of a Japanese detective in London wonderfully played by Takehiro Hira who is looking for his Yakuza hit man brother who is hiding out in the city. He must arrest him and bring him back to Japan. Good luck with that Takehiro. The series is bold and beautiful to look at and searing in parts as it takes apart the intricacies of failed relationships especially the ones involving families. 

In London he must enroll in police procedural classes taught by a female Jewish detective played by the great Kelly MacDonald who also has a lot on her cracked plate. The series is overboard and brilliant, richly designed and photographed and superbly writtten by Joe Barton and co-directed by Ben Chessell and Julian Farino who fill their big canvas with stunning performances including one hell of a job by Will Sharpe as a mixed race (Japanese and Caucasian) male prostitute and junkie who is wild, sassy and necessary.
There is plenty of blood and violence as the scene shifts between Tokyo and London with many flashbacks that are done in different screen ratios along with touches of animation and drawings. Is this all needed, I don’t know but I went with it. The focus of course is on the tortured and tormented brother relationship between Takehiro and his brother Yuto acted with great charm and force by Yosuke Kubozuka who is a major headache and pushes the series to its dramatic conclusion. 

There are kidnappings, Yakuza killings, car chases, explosive combats, lots of blood but also gentle touches, laugh out loud humor and lots of surprises along with twists and turns and turns and twists along with a drop dead stunning Yakuza hood played by Yoshiki Minato who as I said is gorgeous. The climax on a roof in black and white is marvelous and unexpected and the final shot of two possible lovers sitting in a cafe as Barbara Lewis sings “Hello Stranger” on the juke box as a sudden rain falls is breathtaking and memorable. This is of course not for everyone but for those who like tart and tangy this is one series to settle down with. One of the best things I’ve seen.
American Crime (Creator: John Ridley, USA, 2015-17)

Strong stuff. I find it amazing that this series originally aired on ABC considering the frankness and language that flies off the screen and punches you in the face. I think it was cleaned up somewhat for the bible belt but running and streaming on Netflix, its boiling hot liquid thrown in our faces. I could call it a trilogy since it is made up of three separate complete stories and stars a group of actors that kinda make up a repertory cast. Most of the actors appear in all three stories, and three of the actresses who star are among our very best and are simply wonderful. 

Felicity Huffman, Regina King and Lili Taylor play sisters, wives and moms who are stretched and torn to the breaking point with their families and children, and right off the bat I will have to say that it would be a shame if Huffman’s brilliant career was thrown down the toilet for her foolish actions of last year involving her daughter and college admissions. Actually her story could easily be dramatized for this series. The stories are about addiction, violence towards women and children and how the justice system fails many of us, about children who are tossed away, who are abused and violated by adults and also by each other with each story having a layer of racial intolerance. 

There is nothing really new or original here, but they are told with compelling writing and acting and are filled with terrific actors and actresses including Timothy Hutton, Penelope Ann Miller (how good it is to see her), Hope Davis, Sandra Oh and Cherry Jones. Besides Laura Linney I can think of no other actress who shows coldness and calculated nastiness better than Ms. Jones. Highly recommended especially for the fine performances.
Pose (Creators: Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk, USA, 2018-)

A smashing series about the underground ballroom culture that flourished in New York City in the mid and late 80's that gave voice to the mostly African American community of trans, drag performers both pro and amateur. I know little about this place of movement and spectacle even though I had seen the doc. on this world "Paris Is Burning" some years back and watched it again recently. I was enthralled and beautifully entertained through the two jam packed seasons of fashion, dance romance and music. 

The cast is mainly made up of stunning and beautiful transgender actresses and what a great startling bunch they are, including MJ Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson and Indya Moore, all three are fleshed out individuals with quirks, faults and immense kindness and humanity along with large doses of bitchiness and cutting remarks and larger than life humor. The series is lead by Billy Porter who does the master of ceremonies thing at these very late night balls where contestants strut and dance in elaborate costumes in a wild and woolly atmosphere that is almost like something out of ancient Rome. 

The seriousness of the real world of course constantly rears their ugly heads including AIDS which takes it toll along with poverty, racism and transphobia along with violence and grime. The series is notable also for its great use of the city and an intricate and very realistic approach to the art direction. But it is the three main leads who really shine and stand out with a great boost from the wonderful supporting cast, many regulars in the Ryan Murphy universe. Some of the scripts are cliched and a bit run down like some of the girls who strut their stuff, but all in all this one is a keeper. A third season is planned but its anybody's guess when it will see the light and night of day.
Stranger (Creator: Lee Soo-yeon, South Korea, 2017-)

A complex 16 hour Korean thriller series that involves corruption in the government and corporations along with some murders that should make many people happy. The series takes place in Seoul and features a big cast playing detectives, prosecutors and various villains. The cast features some very handsome leading men including Seung-Woo Cho who plays a prosecutor with some serious personality flawsand Joon-Hyuk Lee who is also very handsome and plays a combative fellow prosecutor who is up to his neck in complexities and treachery, he is almost a cliche, but sexy as hell. 

Along for the ride is a female detective played by the superb Doona Bae who is really the heart and soul of the series and is also stunning. Vivid sharp and hyper fast with subtitles that are also fast and can be a problem in following the complicated plot along with keeping all the character's names straight in my head. The show has flaws, over plotting, confused story lines and characters who are there one minute and gone the next, but there is enough good stuff here to keep you glued to the tv. There is also stunning cinematography that gives a good impression of what Seoul is like, a great pounding score, and lots of Korean food. It got into my head so much that I had a dream the other night that I was in Seoul lost but then found.
On My Skin: The Last Seven Days Of Stefano Cucchi (Director: Alessio Cremonini, Italy, 2018)

I came across this Italian film last night and to say that it seared my mind and heart is putting it mildly. The title pretty much gives the film away and is based on fact. It tells the story of a young Italian man who has drug problems but is on his way to recovery and redemption when one night sitting in his car with a friend is stopped and searched by the police who promptly arrest him for having a meager amount of drugs on him. The nightmare for him begins and I won't go into details of what happens. Sure Stefano is a wise ass but there is a sweetness to him and he is loved by his family. He is trying to overcome his faults. 

This is a first time film by the director Alessio Cremonini and he tells his story in minimal style and he is helped by the lead Alessandro Borghi who plays Stefano and is superb. This is one of the great works of film acting I have ever seen, this is no exaggeration. The ending had me reduced to uncontrollable crying. The violence is all done off screen, the results are shown and might be difficult for some to take. The film is presented with subtitles and is happily letterboxed. This is one that will stay with me for a long time.
Halt and Catch Fire (Creators: Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, USA, 2014-17)

First of all before I start offering up my criticisms of this long 4 year series about the birth of the personal computer and the internet I have to say that I loved this show. Set in the early 80’s through the early 90’s in Texas and San Francisco the show focuses on 4 young people including several smart attractive women, a sexy bisexual male, a married couple along with an older man who invent and come together off and on and come up with startling inventions and machines that we now know as the internet and personal computers. Its all fiction (yeah right) but based on fact and probably from what I can tell some real figures from the early years of the computer age. I think the reason that it basically remained unseen even after a nice 4 year run and good to excellent reviews is that people thought it was going to be dry and didactic. Lectures about computers blah who needs it. Its very far from that.
Wonderfully written and directed with a eye for romance and complicated relationships both in the work place and the outside world with a cast which was mostly unknown to me, a familiar face here and there but mainly young and unknown. All are terrific and with some beautiful leads including Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe along with Scoot McNairy who is not pretty but is one of the major brains behind all the inventions and gives a superb performance. Also in the great cast is Toby Huss, Annabeth Gish and Anna Chlumsky along with small delicious turns by Jean Smart, James Cromwell, Annette O’ Toole and a 10 minute bit by Carol Kane as a fortune teller.  

They are computer nerds and geniuses puttering away in garages but also making big deals in the board rooms and chambers of the infant computer world while having real infants of their own. They are able to connect complex wiring systems, to code serious programs and even repair complex air conditioning systems but unable by and large to connect with each other on personal and passing connections. Marriages fail, both long and short, arguments and fights abound, friendships die and so do romances and family bonds if they even existed are scattered to the dry hot winds of the Midwest. Families are in the front and center of the series that is not unusual and some of the characters carry scars both visible on their chests and in their minds and hearts that fester and hurt. 

There is a bisexuality line that is light and almost invisible, and there are several gay threads that are also light and almost not visible which brings me to my main criticism of the show and its major fault as deep and visible as the one called San Andreas. How is the AIDS crisis never referred to is beyond me, I was not looking for “Angels In America” or “The Normal Heart” but this series takes place in the eighties and early 90’s in San Francisco and we get not a cry or bit of anger over this disease taking place around and within but is invisible and not mentioned. Yes there is a well handled but brief disturbing gay bashing and two of the female characters both realize that one of their young daughter’s is gay, handle it in a sweet and carefree manner and then move on. It is a real moment for sure and funny in the nonchalant way that says hey this is no big deal. And oh yes Halt and Catch Fire “is computer machine code instruction which would cause the computer’s central processing unit to stop working.” Easily one of the best things I’ve seen on t.v. See this one.
Call My Agent (Creators: Dominique Besnehard, Fanny Herrero, France, 2015-2020)

A charming, funny French series placed inside a fictitious talent agency which is filled with a vast array of talented actors and snappy story lines. Inspired and influenced by those great Hollywood screwball comedies of the thirties and forties there is even a small dog named Jean Gabin belonging to one of the agents which of course will bring to mind many of those rollicking classics. Created with love and affection by a large creative crew including many women who bring a strong feminist slant to the show including many strong female characters. Much of the humor comes from the many famous French actors and actresses who make cameo appearances playing themselves and who are more than willing to poke fun at themselves including Isabelle Huppert, Beatrice Dalle,Juliette Binoche, Nathalie Baye, Jean Dujardin and Isabelle Adjani. 

The agents are also played by a group of attractive performers all unknown to me and are wonderful in talent and appearance and are a mixture of straight and gay and nothing is off the table. There are intrigues, backstabbing, lies, and conflicts with plenty of ridiculous situations. The standout agents for me were Camille Cottin, beautiful with her prominent nose and style and adamant in her gayness, and the great Lilane Rovere as the oldest one among the group who when young was a lover of Chet Baker's and is the young woman in the most famous photo of Baker, and serves as a nice plot twist. You won't forget her then and now. Filmed mostly in the agency named ASK but with some beautiful on location scenes of Paris. Running for three seasons with a fourth one promised.
Godless (Creator: Scott Frank, USA, 2017)

A startling original take on the Western with many twists and turns but keeping lots of the points and references of westerns both in truth and fiction that have filled our movie and tv screens since film began. The series is rich with references to many Westerns of the past including “The Searchers” “Shane” and even “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” but Scott Frank the director opens his tent to include not only strong women, but people of color including a small community of former “Buffalo hunters” ex slaves who fought during the civil war and who have now set up an isolated community that is not very welcoming to outsiders. 

The main setting for the show is the town of La Belle that has been void of most of their men because of a terrible mining accident and is now inhabited by their widows and other women folk including a former prostitute who is now the school marm and her occasional female lover played superbly by the great Merritt Wever who won an Emmy for her performance. Her brother is the local sheriff acted with great charm by Scoot McNairy widowed with 2 kids and is slowly going blind but his love is not blind for a local widowed female rancher played by Michelle Dockery yes that Michelle Dockery of Downton Abby who shares her life with her Indian spiritual mother in law Lyoui and her half native son Truckee who is played by Samuel Marty and is also marvelous. Dockery is rough, and wounded, lovely and vulnerable and has a perfect American accent. 

Also in the white hat group is the terrific Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the sheriff’s lovable but pretty much clueless deputy, and you might recognize him from his role in “The Queen’s Gambit”. Now if you are going to have a western you have to have some villains, and this show has one the likes of which we have never seen before who roams the wild western reigning down buckets of hell, murder and violent deaths that might be hard for some to take, much less watch. 

Played with brilliant flair by Jeff Daniels who won a supporting Emmy award he is a patchwork quilt of every horror that we have dreamed of and maybe even more. The series opens with one of the most horrific sequences I think I’ve ever seen. Daniels complicated character also has compassion for the less fortunate and it’s not easy to get our heads, and indeed our hearts and souls around this. He is also hunting down his young protégé Roy Goode who turns the tables on him and steals a lot of money from him and runs and hides on the ranch owned by Michelle Dockery. The handsome young man is played by another Brit Jack O’ Connell who also has a perfect American accent and a strange past that slowly comes out in flashbacks. There are plenty of abominations but you should see them for yourself along with a shoot out to end all shoot outs. The cinematography is breathtaking. Has anything as beautiful as this series ever been seen on television?
The Queen’s Gambit (Creators: Scott Frank, Allan Scott, USA, 2020)

“The Queen’s Gambit” streaming on Netflix is based on a novel by Walter Tevis the same guy who wrote “The Hustler” this time using chess instead of pool as a metaphor for life’s challenges that are mostly filled with despair and heartbreak. The series opens in 1967 with a startling scene of a young woman rising out of a bathtub drenched and confused, rushing to get dressed and out the door for an important chess tournament. 

I have to be careful now not to give too much away so that all the pleasures and charms of this series will be yours to discover and enjoy. The background story of the heroine is almost Dickensonian in the details. A frail fragile gentle young girl is left motherless by a terrible accident and on top of that she is also abandoned by her father. She is placed in a typical nasty orphanage for girls somewhere in Kentucky. The young child named Beth Harmon and played with great cheek and sorrow by Isla Johnston is bewitched for some reason by chess and is taken under the wing and watch by the handy man janitor who is a good player of the game. Acted by the marvelous character actor Bill Camp we are put off a bit by him, I mean what is he up to in his spooky cellar at the home. He’s gruff and off-putting and also impatient and weary of giving lessons to the child but he finally gives in and becomes her teacher and mentor.
Its now a few years later, and the child is now a young teenager, a young woman even and in a strange bit of affairs she is adopted by a middle age couple and once again we are left to wonder exactly what is going on. The mom is looking for a companion, a friend and she is wonderfully played by Marielle Heller who is superb, wounded and sad. Heller is also a writer and a director (she did “Diary of A Teenage Girl” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” “And A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood.”) Again a father leaves and the adopted young girl and mom bond in startling and touching ways, and these sequences are some of the most moving mother-daughter impressions I think I’ve ever seen in a movie. 

The years move on and the young girl starts to enter chess tournaments and starts to win them, becoming a chess star. She is also becoming addicted to drugs and booze which some have said is not a good match for playing chess. I don’t know. It’s only a movie Ingrid, and a smart, funny and good one at that. Beth is now played by Anya Taylor-Joy, in what is commonly called a breakthrough star making role and a quick glance at her IMDB page shows that her dance card is indeed booked up for a long time to come. This is a great performance, rich in nuance and substance and it’s so much fun just to watch her move and walk, change and struggle, survive and win. People come and go, chess friends, all men, some lovers, male and female and trips and voyages around the world and in her life. Old friends re-appear and the story closes in a somewhat melodramatic predictable storybook way. 

The look of the film and the period details should please, especially so with the clothes which are lovely. I did have a problem with the wigs which sometimes looked ill fitted and obvious, but the interiors and the filming itself is lush, colorful and eye catching. Written and directed by Scott Frank who is mostly known as a screenwriter, this series is heading for lots of love and awards.
Suburra (Creators: Barbara Petronio, Ezio Abbate, Fabrizio Bettelli, Daniele Cesarano,Nicola Guaglianone, Italy, 2017-)

From the first scene of a nude priest at a private orgy falling down from a heart attack, we know we are in a strange land. That land is the eternal city of Rome and the neighborhood of Suburra that dates back to ancient times where corruption still hovers over this very old neighborhood like miserable pigeons crapping on our heads. Everyone here is corrupt and in this new Netflix series, the violence, betrayal and murders come at a terrifying speed. 

The focus is on three so-called friends all who are young, somewhat attractive, nasty and corrupt as can be. They include Alessandro Borghi the only known actor to me who made a strong impression in “On My Skin” as the braying and volatile Aureliano . He is at war not only with the other drug cartels but also with his father and sister who run the family business of nightclubs and drugs. Aureliano all tatted up with dyed blond hair and later on with a beard and a natural do is the leader of the group. There is also Lele, lanky and confused the son of a policeman who is molded and pushed into doing drastic turns of deceit and murder and finally Alberto “Spandino” the youngest son of a gypsy dynasty who is a closeted gay and dangerous. He dresses like a tacky teenager and moves like a dancer or at times a reptile with his Mohawk like haircut. Played by Giacomo Ferrara he is the most compelling, an heir to Richard Widmark in “Kiss Of Death his weapon of choice is a switchblade. 

There is nothing any one of them would not do to stay in power. The women are also ruthless and mostly without conscience. Standouts include Barbara Chichiarelli with her tight jeans and gnocchi face as Aureliano’s sinister sister and Paola Stogiu as the gypsy matriarch (if looks could kill). The focus of all the criminals’ plans is on Ostia and their desire to turn this ancient harbor of Rome into a modern day Las Vegas. Played to perfection by a brilliant large cast and with glorious on location cinematography of Rome, which has never looked more beautiful and lived in, a local bus drives by the Coliseum with everyday panache, over decorated bourgeois apartments mingle with run down cafes and cobblestone streets and the beauty of Rome is everywhere. This sprawling epic of blood and violence was directed by Stefano Sollima. A movie version also exists, but see the series first. Also notable is the throbbing music score.
Dogs Of Berlin (Creator: Christian Alvart, Germany, 2018)

A fast and furious cop series set in a distraught crime ridden neighborhood of Berlin that is covered with drugs, murder, and especially racism. The show opens with a corrupt ex-nazi cop screwing his mistress when her young son interrupts them with the news that her infant smells and needs changing. Ok. Raw and real including the explicit nudity. If you like big beefy nude male butts this is the show for you. The cop Kurt Grimmer is played by Felix Kramer who changes the infant, cuddles the child as he smokes a cigarette on the balcony. Suddenly something catches his attention and off he goes down to a crime scene with the baby in his arms. This is clearly a great opening and I was caught up and hooked. It seems that a Turkish-German superstar football (soccer) has been murdered and this sets all the warring groups off and on fire. Grimmer is a gambler, in big debt and corrupt as the day is long and has a mother and a younger brother both from hell who are deep into a neo-nazi group. In order to investigate the murder, which has a surprise and pretty good solution his bosses on the police squad give him a Turkish German partner Erol Birkan who is also out gay, morally upright and the opposite of Grimmer and is well acted by Fahri Yardim. This is a nice and unexpected touch but brings the usual homophobia and danger to him including a terrible beating at the hands of his new partner and his rough house homophobic pals on the force. 

The action proceeds at a fast clip and involves all the scum, crooks and racists including the neo-Nazis, the Berlin mafia, the Lebanese and Turkish nationalists and the crooked police, quite a stew. There are also side bars with melodramatic soap like problems with wives, mistresses, boyfriends, cheap thieves both young and old and the city of Berlin itself. Some of it blends and some of it rises to the top scalding hot and bitter, but it does move and has lots of color if no charm. Its visually arresting with neon color, loud rap gangster music, fast moving cars and chases and a boiling hot street fight involving the Turkish nationalists and the Nazi’s. Oh yes there are also some dogs. Not for everyone, but if your taste runs to rough and raw this 10 part series might do it for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.