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Two marks is generous
Canada has suffered enough as a country with an unforgiving climate, a bumbling overgrown neighbor to the south, and two languages spoken in ways not easily understood by their European forebears. This presentation as fictional drama about its early fur trade takes the suffering to a new and even more painful level. Its attempt at history is way off the mark; the writing is just one cliché after another; its politically correct attempt to create believable female characters ultimately demeaning; and its acting skills with rare exception nonexistent.
Because Canada is nevertheless a nation that has learned from its real history how to suffer all this without much complaint, and to do so largely in a graceful and compassionate way, one can give a pass to this filmed intrusion into its bountiful geography. The scenery is as always larger than life
Medici: Masters of Florence (2016)
Poetic License Gone Astray
Lots of real Italians involved in the production...otherwise a pastiche of cinematic excess. That a blue-eyed Celtic Cosimo could have been the natural son of Ratso Rizzo is a howler. The Cosimo role should have gone to diminutive Hoffman in the first place...far closer to any original version of the historic Medici.
Otherwise beautiful scenery and music, great costumes. But the overall display seems almost too hygienic for medieval Italy. Check out the fireplaces for example: tidy little sticks and flames passing for sources of heat in massive stone castles, together with omnipresent torches straight out of some Hollywood epic circa 1940.
As to plot and dialogue, this series is nowhere close to the quality of similar portrayals of randy Florentines such as the recent one on the Borgias. One senses it was made not for historical accuracy or even dramatic excellence so much as for generating dollars on American cable TV. The sex scenes are a tiny hem away from being x- rated.
Not dreadful. Just sub-par.
Workmanlike, but Flawed
From the start, I hoped the plot of this TV series would develop organically from a beginning to an end. Wrong. Instead, the perpetrator is revealed close to the beginning and it descends morbidly from there into subplots that have little or nothing to do with the main plot except as props. One murder after another in a sleepy little (Canadian) town posing as a distant suburb of New York City occur almost at random. A somber and dim color tone makes the viewer drowsy, as does a slow pace in the dialogue.
Worse still is a mix of very professional acting on the part of some characters contrasted with others who can barely read their lines. The presence of a Polaroid camera in one sequence is reflective of how it takes "thirty seconds" to make clear the intent of scenes that drag on far too long. Coincidences abound, obviously contrived to create suspense to fend off a viewer's frustration with an apparent inability of the scriptwriter to deal naturally with otherwise inexplicable events in the subplots. Criminal evidence as well as eyewitness testimony moves back and forth almost at random to fit whatever is needed to extend the perpetrator's freedom until the bitter end.
In short, extremely unconvincing...especially the subplots.
El tiempo entre costuras (2013)
Engaging Piece of History
Even if you knew little or nothing about the European presence over the years in Morocco, this series...basically a languid tearjerker...will fill in the blanks nicely. Call it a period chick flick if you will; it still carries a great deal of weight on its own as a very respectable drama, beautifully filmed on site in Tetuan. Carried along by a musical score at times obnoxiously repetitive and saccharin, the narrative is more or less easy to follow. Generally good subtitles in English help someone more attuned to Mexican dialect like me appreciate rapid fire Castillian voices. There are obvious holes in the plot, but they are few and far between. Melodrama makes its own rules.
In short, this is worth the considerable time it takes to get through the whole series, which you will find easily on Netflix. History may be boring to some, but this kind of drama makes it more than palatable.
And as for Morocco, we'll always have Tetuan.
A hidden soap opera treasure
No reviews to date? Seriously? One supposes that is mainly because it speaks a language (Catalán) with which relatively few Europeans or Americans are familiar. Yet it appears regularly on YouTube with Spanish and even on occasion badly translated English subtitles. No excuses, however. A splendidly scripted, acted, and filmed TV series like this deserves better attention.
The narrative centers on a teacher and his philosophy class in a contemporary Barcelona high school. Each episode follows the teacher's life both at home and in the context of how he interacts with a specific set of acquaintances drawn from that milieu. No punches are pulled where the tone and depth of such relationships are concerned; fine and coarse language intermingle freely, as do sexual tensions involving all the characters.
But the most surprising aspect to me is how thoroughly expert and technically adept an obviously low budget film from a region lying at the northern extremity of its EU country succeeds in every way at generating a first-class production. I like everything about it: the musical track, the use of lighting, the camera work, and the direction. It is equally startling to discover in a minor TV series actors of all ages and kinds delivering top performances. Any language barrier fades away, almost as if it were a silent film with subtitles barely visible.
Now in its second season, this one should be a "must see" for the avid film fan.
For the last fifteen years I have made it a habit of taking one or two Michael Connelly novels with me on flights and cruises. Second only to the works of Raymond Chandler, they bring to life a unique urban Los Angeles underworld few others have managed to portray well. In the current TV series based piecemeal on those novels, the literary tradition marches on.
Some viewers will quibble with visual and historical anomalies in this TV production. But showing a sunrise which is really a sunset over a real place is nothing to get excited about. The main question for me is how casting of actors based on characters from the novels enhances rather than detracts from familiar mental images. I think it was wise to find a new face for Bosch...not some megastar.
Titus Welliver is not a bad choice for Harry Bosch. He gets the part at least 80% right, which is no small achievement. The physicality of Harry Bosch in scene after scene is that of a tough but reluctant warrior, relieved only by moments of sentimentality when his favorite music is played or one of the many beautiful women in his life come on screen. My sole reservation has to do with the actor's failure to engage the character in those moments as a laid back and ironically bemused human being, unlike a programmed machine bearing a fixed gaze of determined intent. That may be the scriptwriter's fault. Bosch in the novels seems far more relaxed, more able to slouch into a room rather than attacking it.
Still, this series is a welcome addition to the oeuvre of Michael Connelly.
An alcoholic skirt-chasing priest, a timid gay curate, a five-foot police inspector who wears a six-foot overcoat in all kinds of weather, and a stern housekeeper with a heart of gold. Who wouldn't love it? This is the stuff of British Soaps invading Masterpiece Theater, albeit cast in the popularly retro 1950's. Or at least what a politically correct screen writer in 2014 imagines the 1950's to have been.
Seriously, I enjoy flawed stereotypes as a rule, and this one takes the cake. No Father Brown sly jokes here. Just all very earnest sentimental twaddle (as my favorite lit prof used to call it). I guess it's even been renewed for a third season. Great fun! I wonder what twisted deeds will work their way into the next few episodes, making fun of fallen icons...especially those in the Church of England. And making us feel good that those bad old days are behind us.
I have a good idea for a 45-minute plot: have the priest fall for a gorgeous woman who wants desperately to be a priest but can't wait for the 21st Century to make it a reality. He can switch her off with all the other women in town, agonizing as his raging hormones drive him to drink and despair. He is then saved by her eventually deciding to be a deaconess, whilst he takes his dog for a walk before going over to give his cop mate a big hug.
Wait a minute! I think that will sell equally well over at Hollyoaks.
In the Shadow of WWII
Having read as a boy Steinbeck's under-appreciated novel The Moon Is Down about Norway occupied by Germans for the entire 1940-1945 period, I am always fascinated by newer incarnations of that terrible time. Make no mistake: this TV series "Occupied" strives for the same contrast between patriotism and pragmatism that characterized life in Norway under Quisling, an uneasy military occupation depending on good compromised by evil and vice versa. It is an important narrative only in that sense. The plot is otherwise a mixed bag of tantalizing suspense and odd threads that go absolutely nowhere.
In the first place, the premise is absurd. Oil and gas as sources of energy are offset in the real world by increasing natural-based modes of generation. The idea of some new factory using a process similar to nuclear fission saving the world from climate change is pointless.
I think the intended audience for the series must be solely Norwegian. It surely will not appeal to EU citizens, nor will it carry much weight in the English-speaking world in spite of having many scenes carried forward in that language. And Russians are xenophobic enough without thrusting this in their faces.
Not that its cast is lacking in looks or talent; whatever value the story has rests on their shoulders. Nor is technique or cinematic quality in question. It is a beautifully filmed rendering of a beautiful country.
My advice: trim it down to a feature-length film. Tighten up the plot and make it relate to actual political possibilities rather than hypothetical and nonsensical ones.
London Spy (2015)
Good production values and acting go to waste on this mini-series which just completed a run on BBC America. I hate to say it, but any thought of a renewal to the series involving further trials and travails of Danny would be still greater waste. The weight of a complicated and largely unbelievable plot flatten any prospect of improvement.
I was tempted to stop watching at about the halfway point in the second episode but curiosity got the better of me. As in most thrillers relying on suspense before a final reveal, a saving grace in even the most dismal of them can be superb acting by well-known performers. This series has that in abundance. But the plot is truly ridiculous, relying on some overarching conspiracy without a shred of evidence beyond the fact that Danny's lover carried with him secrets about all the major intelligence networks in the world. Coded, of course. And seemingly everyone outside Danny's circle of friends was in on it. Truly pretentious drivel.
Then Charlotte Rampling came on in a role reminiscent of that played by Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. Almost a wicked mother or stepmother as they case may be. I suppose this was intended to be a powerful redeeming force to answer all questions leftover to episode five. What nonsense! Perhaps the writer intended to leave enough on the table to ensure a renewal. Vain hope.
Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar
After having found this obscure docudrama on Netflix I decided to look in at its various reviews on IMDb. My curiosity in the first place came from watching The Imitation Game from 2015 and wondering what else was out there on the subject of Alan Turing. I had read a good deal about him over the years but was unaware that there were several other biopics based on his life story.
Only a handful of reviews on this one, despite the popularity of others? I was intrigued. Ed Stoppard's credits on IMDb fail even to mention it. Was it really that insignificant, or a bad film?
Not at all. It is a fine piece of work, combining fact and fiction in an artful and satisfying way...an excellent accompaniment to The Imitation Game for anyone who found, as I did, the more recent Cumberbatch portrayal mysterious and vague. Codebreaker for all its faults in not going far enough into the science of computing does indeed reflect the real man and those who were integral participants in his life and tragedy. It pulls no punches. Although the role of the psychoanalyst is a throwaway gimmick, I cannot fault the Stoppard performance. It informs cold documentation very well indeed.
Nine out of ten marks without any hesitation.