Which Way Home –Is There One?

Which Way Home review about immigrant children crossing the Mexico-US border in 2005.

In this gripping 2010 Academy Award nominated HBO documentary, Which Way Home opens with something large and bulbous floating down the Rio Grande. The viewer soon learns it is a corpse, perhaps that of a child, and an observer comments matter-of-factly that this happens multiple times a day.

Director Rebecca Cammisa follows the struggles of a handful of young, unaccompanied Central American children (all of them boys except for one nine-year-old girl) who are determined to jump the border to a new home in the United States.  Riding on the top of freight trains nicknamed “The Beast”, these young migrants experience the exhausting, dangerous migration from small villages in Honduras and Guatemala.   Facing an almost unimaginably treacherous trip of thousands of miles before even reaching the U.S. border,  these children sometimes die, survive with amputated  limbs, or suffer from predators (including the police).  At first the children seem clueless, thinking the journey will be an adventure with a materially fabulous life like the ones pictured on television and in the movies. For those who are orphans or running away,  possible adoption at the end of the arduous train ride is their dream.  Their parents don’t know what their children will face either, often paying thousands of dollars to smugglers who promise safety at the end of the road. This is in the year 2005.

We learn that child migrants have many reasons for wanting to get to the United States, some involving helping their families by sending money home, some trying to reunite with parents they haven’t seen for years, and one trying to save his mother from an abusive stepfather. 

Which Way Home is overwhelming: seeing children (and adults) in such grave need, forced to accept life-threatening choices.  The viewer follows small children  into a hostile, lawless frontier.  Sadly, the youngsters have a romantic dream to travel with the expectation that they will succeed.

There’s a scene in which an adult has met two nine-year-olds, Olga and Freddie. And he asks: What do you want to be when you grow up? They both say “we want to be a doctors.” And he responds that anything they  want to do they can do.   And, to me, that was perhaps  the most tragic line in the entire film.  The reality is clear.  What they want to do is unlikely to ever  happen.

As the US continues to fight over building a wall along the Mexican border, Which Way Home  shows the personal cost of immigration through the eyes of these young children who courageously face harrowing circumstances beyond their control.

Stories of hope and courage, disappointment and betrayal, render these children less invisible–if only we will see.  This film is absolutely heartbreaking.  Are they alive? Did they cross into the US? 

Note:  Available on Netflix DVD.

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The Hate U Give –T.H.U.G.

The Hate U Give is an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestseller by the same name (released in February 2017).  Starr Carter,   a sixteen-year-old gifted student, has to adeptly maneuver between two worlds — her poor, mostly black neighborhood and a wealthy, mostly white prep school. Facing pressure from all sides, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.

Beautiful  newcomer,  Amandla Stenberg, is perfectly cast as the  wounded, courageous high school student who attends an elite white private school because her mother Lisa (a superb Regina Hall) insists she has a bright future, one that most of their neighborhood’s teen residents will not have.  

Shedding her hoodie, swallowing any aggression that might make her seem “ghetto,” and eradicating black slang, Starr endures  her white peers, including boyfriend Chris (“Riverdale” star K J Apa) and friend Kayleigh (Sabrina Carpenter) who have appropriated what they think is “cool” from black youth.  Painful tolerance is evident on Starr’s face.  “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me,” Starr tells Chris in response to his clueless-white-boy pride in  “not seeing color.”  Yet Starr also has to  straddle  differing opinions  of her blackness and suspicions about her elitist classmates.

Starr’s life is carefully compartmentalized. Yet it seems she can only truly relax around her loving family.  In a deeply moving and unforgettable scene, Maverick, her father  (sympathetically played by Russell Hornsby), is sitting at the dining room table giving his elementary school-age son a lesson on how to survive a traffic stop by a white cop.  Maverick insists that his young son copy how he should place his hands on the dashboard, head down, avoiding eye contact.  The little boy has no comprehension why his father’s doing this.

After a raucous and typical teenage party where Starr reconnects with her  childhood playmate and crush Khalil (Algee Smith), the story becomes tragic. Starr will become the  only witness, at first reluctantly, to a night of infamy.

The Hate U Give offers a fascinating portrayal of the inspiration and moral courage of youth,  especially  black youth, who struggle to understand and survive  the racism and brutality they encounter from infancy. Solidarity against the enemy should not have to mean harboring and hating the enemy within.  The lessons to be learned from The Hate U Give and the power of understanding the self-destructive force of hate are nuanced, not dogmatic.

 The Hate U Give deserves wide circulation.   Enraging, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply moving,  none of the young people should ever have been asked to make these impossible choices.   Although the ending is rather weak,  the true ending IMHO is when Starr finds her voice.  The Hate U Give’s impact lies in using film to  demand concrete social change.

Note: Available on Netflix as a DVD and soon available on HBO.

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Burn This–Blazing Comedy on Broadway

“Burn This”–a Broadway revival of a Lanford Wilson play

Burn This,  a revival of a 1980’s play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, well deserves the five Tony award nominations it has received this year. The exceptional performance by Adam Driver will leave you breathless.

The tragic death of a young, gay dancer named Robbie has left his two roommates and his older brother broken-hearted.  Anna (Keri Russell from “The Americans”) and Larry (Tony-nominated Brandon Uranowitz), are shattered by Robbie’s death and wander listlessly around their apartment recalling moments they shared with him.   Having just met Robbie’s family for the first time at the funeral, Anna wonders how she could have known so little about someone she thought she knew so well.  A major theme of Burn This, –that we are strangers to ourselves even more than to the those who think they know us best–sets fireworks throughout the extraordinary and sometimes very funny dialogue.

With the unleashed frenzy of a tornado,–an entrance of sound and fury– Robbie’s older brother, Pale (Adam Driver of “Girls” and the last two Star Wars movies),  opens the door to  Anna and Larry’s apartment in New York City. He has arrived there unannounced to collect his brother’s belongings. He is unhinged, in a drug-induced state of mind, burdened by a  grief that deranges.  In spite of having had little recent contact with Robbie over the years, Pale’s guilt and remorse are obvious.  He is hiding a bitter secret and is oblivious to how he is impacting Anna and Larry’s own mourning for Robbie.

Anna has an entitled, scriptwriter boyfriend, Burton (David Furr), who assumes he will marry her. But the anguish and pheromones are palpable and jolt Anna and Pale into love or lust or something more relentless and unexpected.

Failure to connect with one another, fear of intimacy, lack of empathy for another’s aspirations and uncertainty with one’s own feelings of desire and need:  Burn This sizzles with humor, darkness and ambiguity.

Such a crowd-pleaser! I hope Burn This will travel nationwide like “Book of Mormon”, “Hamilton”, and “Dear Evan Hansen”.  There is something for everyone in the audience to relate to!

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  1. Hello Diana.
    I am in love with Adam Driver. Anything he does would certainly bring favorable artistic comments. Will it be coming to San Jose or San Francisco?
    Cordially,
    celeste

    1. It is too soon to tell. But the play sold out almost immediately, so the financial backers want to take it to the West Coast. Will let you know–it is the best work I have seen from Adam Driver, and he was excellent in BlacKkKlansman.

Mendocino–An Artist Haven

Mendocino County is known for its beautiful coastline, redwood forests, wineries, microbreweries and liberal attitudes towards marijuana.  Also, in July of last year the Ranch Fire devastated miles near Clear Lake in Mendocino County.  For my first trip there last week it was for an art workshop at the Mendocino Art Center, a wonderful experience I highly recommend.  There are a wide range of art classes available for weekend artists and friendly, beautiful accommodations within walking distance.  (My friend and I stayed at MacCallum House, and I highly recommend them!)

“Lost Horizon” by Susie Berteaux
Barbara Kibbe

“The Finale” by Diana Paul

I think of Mendocino as Carmel about a century ago:  quaint, historic buildings that are impeccably well-preserved and with history hiding between its lanes and alleys.  For example, there is a cemetery with a Chinese grave site within its perimeter, established in 1863, and segregated from the “mainstream” plots.  Ditto for the Catholic cemetery.  Little known but well-worth stopping by.

The artisanal grocery stores, curated galleries, and wide range of retail clothing and jewelry shops try to represent locals only in their goods.  And an  unbelievably well-stocked bookstore (Gallery Bookshophas an entire table devoted to the local history of Mendocino. And the food (check out Trillium and Cafe Mendocino restaurants) are not to be missed.

For all of you who plan to visit northern California, I highly recommend the Mendocino Coast, and if you are there in May and love flowers, make sure to stop by the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (on 47 acres).  Last week’s rhododendron show was memorable–and the largest in the U.S.!

Who knew Mendocino had so much to offer?!

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  1. I fell in love with Mendocino on my first visit 5 years ago, and have returned every spring. I teach a class at the Mendocino Arts Center, which is historic and dates back at least 50 years or more. This quaint, quiet and secluded haven is nestled by the ocean with spectacular views and great hikes. My favorite subjects to paint are its unique water towers.
    I highly recommend Mendocino as a stop amongst places to visit.

  2. Mendocino – one of my favorite destinations.
    The location is one of the many reasons I like to attend Evelyn Klein’s Encaustic Monotype workshop at the Monterey Art Center.
    I have vacationed in Mendocino on and off for the last 30 years, finding new things to enjoy and established things, like the botanical garden, to revisit.
    Thank you, Diana, for deciding to attend the workshop so I could share what I love about Mendocino. It was sooooo much fun and a real pleasure.

  3. Hi Diana:
    Bill and I went to Mendocino for our wedding anniversary for many of the years we were at Stanford. That means we knew it during the heyday of hippie artists and laid back lifestyle. I am sure that many of the places we knew are gone, replaced with something much better.
    Thanks for taking me down memory lane.
    –Matilda

In Order of Disappearance–Plowing through Suspense

In this combination of black comedy and Nordic noir, we are treated to a series of scenes involving gangster mobs, drug trade, a father’s revenge, kidnapping, and snow plows. In Order of Disappearance is part “Fargo” and part other Coen brothers’ comedic treatment of snow country.  The main character, Nils (the Scandinavian acting legend Stellan Skarsgard), is a Norwegian government employee, a snow plower,  who has  recently been awarded a Citizen of the Year Award. When his only son is murdered for being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong friend, Nils seeks revenge. Winning a blood feud isn’t easy, especially in a welfare state with organized crime expertly hidden beneath the radar. But Nils has something going for him: his spotless reputation as a devoted civil servant, heavy machinery that can plow through more than snow, and the strategic and tactical skills required for plotting against a mob.

In Order of Disappearance involves, as the title suggests, a morbid body count. Nils  soon turns ruthless, laser-focused avenging angel. Greven,   drug lord and “godfather ” to a cutthroat Norwegian drug syndicate, is a borderline psychotic.  Nonetheless, and somewhat incongruously, there are some bizarre, comic scenes with Greven’s child who is bullied at school.

Beautifully filmed, In Order of Disappearance brilliantly evokes the white cold and brutal conditions of a Norwegian winter.   With a sense of isolation and desolation of soul in a white-out, there is nothing visible except blood and mayhem.

This irresistibly nasty little film combines snowplowing roads for commuters, with contemplating suicide, and dumping corpses over water falls.  Skarsgard brings a stoic detachment to the revenge he he is determined to see to the end–served cold.   Just as you will never look at a table saw chopping wood in the same way after seeing the movie “Fargo”, you’ll never watch a snowplow with the usual disinterest again.

Well worth seeing.

Note: “In Order of Disappearance” is available to stream on Netflix and was remade as “Cold Pursuit” starring Liam Neeson earler this year. 

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    1. Happy to know you want to subscribe! Just go to the Right side of the home page and fill out the info under “Stay in Touch” and then click on Submit. I look forward to reading your comments on my posts!

Kusama–Infinity

The art of critically-acclaimed Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama,  now commands the highest price for any female artist alive today.  As an art-world superstar, Kusama has attracted millions of  museum-goers worldwide who wait for hours for the chance to take selfies to post on Instagram in one of her mirrored Infinity Rooms.  Yet little is known of this nonagenarian artist obsessed with dots and the film Kusama-Infinity reveals much about the artist.  She committed herself to a mental hospital in the 1970s, out of fear that she might commit suicide.  Her long arduous road to success was painful and took decades to reach.

Infinity follows a young and beautiful Kusama whose tortuous path not only reveals the artist’s persistence, resilience, and confidence but also her understanding of women’s rights, sexual freedom,  and gay rights in the US.  She symbolically performed the first gay marriage in the US,  in Central Park,  long before most Americans were cognizant of the cultural revolution about to take over the mainstream psyche. 

Endlessly courageous, Kusama aggressively promoted her work in the male-dominated artworld of New York City, only a decade after the end of the Second World War.  Despite staggering odds, this petite, unassuming Japanese woman, speaking faltering English, was determined to exhibit her art as she wanted, not as the gatekeepers of the artworld demanded. 

Infinity suggests that Yayoi Kusama’s mental illness may have stemmed from a traumatic childhood.  Both her parents wanted her to have a traditional Japanese marriage, with an upper class lifestyle.  Instead, the young artist escaped to New York City. While Kusama was waiting for recognition, she had an intimate but nonsexual relationship with the famous artist, Joseph Cornell. Under the mentorship of Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama had her first important gallery show.  Frank Stella became an avid collector of her work as well as a supporter.

Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, among others, “borrowed heavily”from Kusama’s work which was still relatively obscure while these male artists became sensations.   This repeated pattern, with white male artists being recognized for work that seemed influenced by her own innovations, understandably upset Kusama. The theft of her ideas may have been a catalyst for her depression and decision to return to Japan in the late 70s.

Slowly, as Kusama reached her late sixties, her art became fully acknowledged and skyrocketed in value. The 1993 Venice Biennale exemplified the art world’s recognition.

Infinity should have broad appeal as this film is also a condemnation  of the patronizing art overseers and their impact as gatekeepers of  what art becomes internationally recognized.

Note:  Kusama–Infinity is available on Netflix DVD.  “Velvet Buzzsaw” (see my  February 12, 2019 review),  a dramatization of a fictionalized and futuristic artworld is a fascinating metaphor for what Yayoi Kusama experienced over half a century ago.

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Hanna–“Handmaid’s Tale” meets “Jack Ryan”

Hanna Amazon Original Series
Hanna, starring Esme Creed-Miles

On the surface Hanna (Amazon original series) might appear to be another conventional espionage thriller/dystopia about discovery of identity and revenge against those who hid the truth.  However, this reinterpretation of the 2011 action movie starring Saoirse Ronan, is also a dark sci-fi treatise on fascism and violence in society.  In this new release we follow an isolated teen (newcomer Esme Creed-Miles) with almost super-human powers.  She learns both survival and assassin skills from  her ex-government operative father (Joel Kinnamon), both of them hiding deep in a forest in Poland, after escaping Romania. Hiding from a CIA agent (Mireille Enos) who is determined to kill them, the father and daughter’s  cat-and-mouse game  leads to evermore sinister conspiracies.

Those expecting consistently fast-paced action may  be disappointed.  The soundtrack, languorous chase and car scenes are for Bourne Identity and Jack Ryan fans.  The narrative has plot holes, often involving how someone was located and why a change of venue occurs as we move from Romania, to Poland, Morocco, Amsterdam, Germany, and London.

The casting of  Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnamon (both starring in “The Killing”  TV series 2011-2014) was a perfect match for supporting Esme Creed-Miles in her coming-of-age story.  However,  the nine episodes could have been edited to seven or eight for a tighter, more cohesive drama.

Nonetheless, I was hooked by this young superwoman and found Hanna enjoyable and intriguing, especially the dynamic between father and daughter.  Do not compare this mini-series with the film, because so much of the story has been revised. This is one of the better Amazon series we’ve been offered in the past few years.  Highly recommend!

Note:  Available on Amazon Prime.

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The Dinner–Food for Thought

The Dinner movie


This darkly suspenseful tale of two privileged families is based upon the Dutch author Herman Koch’s bestselling 2013 novel.  The families struggle to make the most consequential decision of their lives, all over the course of  dinner at an exclusive Manhattan restaurant. Upper class privilege and sibling rivalry are at the heart of The Dinner, a psychologically astute family saga. 

A middle-aged high school history teacher, Paul (Steven Coogan), and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) reluctantly have dinner with Paul’s elder brother, Stan (Richard Gere), a prominent politician running for governor, and his second wife Babette (Rebecca Hall).

We slowly become aware that a savage and heinous family trauma has occurred.  As silver globes are pretentiously lifted to reveal dinner courses, a family secret will soon be revealed.  The setting underscores the absurdities of deeply unhappy, entitled lives, hiding underneath the shimmering surface beauty of elegance.  Appearances are deceiving.  Paul despises the pretentiousness of the restaurant, as much as  he does his brother’s success. Neither brother wants to be at this dinner.

Reminiscent of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” or Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie”, The Dinner ominously guides the viewer to witness the desperate tenacity a parent will resort to in order to secure their child’s future or the dissolution of a marriage, sometimes both.  Is no act too reprehensible? What if collateral damage is unavoidable?

The Dinner just ends, as if in mid-sentence. I personally loved this. Some reviewers and audience members absolutely hated this. Questions of morality and justice remain unanswered.  Viewer beware:  There really is  no one to root for or like.  But the four characters are equally riveting and their moral dilemmas persuasive.


And this is what makes The Dinner so compelling.  It is a dissection of family obligation and where it ends.  As Stan, the gubernatorial candidate responds, “family is always political.” 

It will not be for the viewer who seeks the cozy, the redemptive or the uplifting. If you are such a viewer, do not see this dark, noir, nihilistic film.  The specter of no moral compass is hinted at throughout. 

This is a different review because of  The Dinner’s not insignificant flaws. The Dinner does not become a spellbinder until way into the second half of the film.  The first languorous forty-five minutes are almost too painful to watch, except for essential snippets of the family’s history.

As difficult a task as this may sound, persevere even though the irrelevance of most of the first half of this movie may wear you out.  When The Dinner does finally reach its climax, the movie crackles, incendiary and explosive. All four actors give extraordinary, unsettling, and unforgettable performances. More cohesion and restraint in editing would have made The Dinner truly exceptional.

Note: Available on Netflix streaming.

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Dawn Wall–They Persisted (The Only Wall to Consider?)

Dawn Wall documentary

Dawn Wall was last year’s SXSW Audience Award documentary winner. Free climber Tommy Caldwell and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, attempt to scale the unscalable 3000 ft. Dawn Wall, a vertical granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Dawn Wall  is much more than a documentary about climbing, however.  There is the horrific incident in Krzygistan, the years of gaining experience climbing the other faces of El Capitan, and the friendship with two female climbing partners, both of whom he had married. After an accident, Caldwell resolved not to stop his free climbing but persevered, often blurring the boundary between commitment and obsession.

All can appreciate Dawn Wall,  even if you don’t have a clue about climbing. This is an engrossing documentary that is, first and foremost, about the friendship between Caldwell and Jorgeson. Kevin Jorgeson was inexperienced as a free climber but expert at “bouldering”, a type of free climbing at 50-100 feet.  Together the two climbers   spend more than six years meticulously mapping and practicing their route. Their resilience and courage are beyond astonishing as the two climbers make history.

Dawn Wall is about the indefatigable human spirit, and the ability to overcome and accomplish the impossible. The power of friendship and supportive brotherly love in the face of adversity is beautifully crafted. While Caldwell’s obsessive nature is apparent in almost every frame of this movie, he avoids narcissism in the turning point of their climb.

This is where Dawn Wall transfixes the viewer. I felt like I was literally hanging on the side of the mountain with both climbers as they slept in a portaledger tent suspended in mid-air and laughed about what they ate and how they adapted to toilet needs as they climbed for weeks.  This isn’t really a sports film. 

The magic is in this amazing journey between kindred spirits. The fact that there are two humans in a partnership without jealousy or competitive pettiness outstrips other movies about supra-human feats and endurance such as “Man on a Wire” and “Free Solo”.  The need for human companionship and sharing in the victory makes Dawn Wall more compelling.  Adversity and setbacks drive their  personal challenges but  their friendship triumphs over all.   Dawn Wall is full of heart and soul, for everyone who has experienced hard climbs, slipping and losing our grip, and then pushing through.  Highly recommended!

Note: This YouTube behind-the-scenes clip is an added bonus for appreciating the heroic efforts the film crew undertook as well!

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — The Golden Rule

There’s a lot to like about producer/director Morgan Neville’s moving,  2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  Neville (who also created 20 Feet from Stardom – see my August 19, 2018 review) interviews just about everyone who knew Fred Rogers– his wife and two sons, his longtime cast and crew on the pioneering PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood  (1968 to 2001).  Some baby-boomers, their children and their grandchildren grew up on the soothing words of Mister Rogers:

   So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day/Since we’re together we might as well say/Would you be mine?/Could you be  mine?/Won’t you be my neighbor?”

        Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was pokey enough to be cringe-worthy for adults who wondered how their children could be spellbound by a nondescript, unassuming man in a cardigan, who changed his shoes while singing the same opening song for almost forty years.

Fred Rogers, a graduate of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the mid-60’s, soon realized that television could be revolutionary and that children’s lives would be impacted by this new medium.  Why not offer a show that deals with a child’s feelings–anger, fear, self-esteem, grief–to prepare them for their new world?  Mister Rogers proved to be a master at eliciting children’s  feelings, and recommending  trusting grownups to listen.    Daniel Striped Tiger–Mister Rogers’ alter ego in a furry puppet form– tackled the everyday emotional needs of pre-schoolers with respect, honesty, and thoughtfulness rarely seen on television then or now.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

 What the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? explores perhaps more clearly now than at the time the show was produced is just how revolutionary Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood actually was.  Even through the tumultuous Sixties, subjects of political violence, racial discrimination, and the degrading messages children and adults frequently heard were never side-stepped or sugarcoated.  Without preaching but with integrity and visual connection, Mister Rogers would show by example.  Soaking his feet in a kiddie pool with his friend, the African American policeman, Officer Clemmons,  demonstrated community in a time of segregated swimming pools.

When cellist Yo-Yo Ma describes first meeting Fred Rogers, he recalls that Rogers put his face three inches from Ma’s while gently smiling at him.  “He scared the hell out of me,” says Ma.  Rogers did the same thing when he first met the gorilla Koko, who then held his hand and signed that she loved him.

Under Mr. Rogers’ seemingly bland exterior was a true radical.   Here was a white middle-aged man inviting everyone to live in his neighborhood, regardless of color.  And his cast reflected diversity not yet seen on most shows today.

Almost hagiographical in scope, Neville does reveal one of Fred Rogers’ blind spots.  The actor who played Officer Clemmons had been to a gay bar.   Rogers soon informed him that if there were any future visits to gay bars, he would be terminated out of fear of losing corporate sponsors. The inclusion and fostering of community revealed in the context of its time was  still not universally accepting. 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? elevates this classic children’s show and its star to a standard we need to remind ourselves of and recommit to.  The unspoken question is:  What would Fred Rogers think of a culture congealed into a state of outrage, vulgarity and intolerance?  How would we build a neighborhood and live together in an era of proposed wall-building?

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood   was a realistic lens on how a child must make sense of an emotionally complex and sometimes irrational world. 

 It’s this idea that kindness is not a naive notion like believing in unicorns and rainbows. It’s oxygen: It’s vital, and needs to be nurtured.

When you watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? you don’t see a Republican or a Democrat.  Mister Rogers speaks to the fundamental ways we should all speak to each other.

Note: Available on PBS.com and Netflix DVD.

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Bordertown, Season 2–Borderline Thriller

This long-awaited Finnish noir thriller’s second season continues to feature the quirky and sullen detective Kari  Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen) and his partner, Lena Jaakola (Anu Sinisalo),    as they obsessively pursue a series of grizzly murders similar to the first season of 2016 (see my July 23, 2017 review of Season 1) .  The format of Bordertown Season 2 is similar to the first season, namely  five criminal cases, each two episodes in length.

This dark and moody crime series swept Finland’s top TV awards in its first season, winning Best Drama, Best Actor and Best Actress and was the most-watched series in Finland’s television history.

The two crimes which are the most gripping–“The Rite of Spring” and “Bloodmaid”– are both  bloody and dramatic with  themes of infanticide and pedophilia (“The Rite of Spring”) and predatory stalking (“Bloodmaid”). We burrow into the wormhole of the criminal mind and its darkest, most sickening secrets and lies.

Season 2 is a mere shadow of the first season with a lesser quality of writing and  egregious plot holes. The lead detective, Kari Sorjonen, is reduced to a caricature of his earlier self. Often distracting, odd, and gratuitously annoying, Sorjonen now possesses a layer of over-the-top facial and body tics. Poking at his head, presumably to demonstrate to the viewer that he is a brilliant criminal analyst, and even stepping on documents to somehow inspire his investigative skills, this portrayal of Sorjonen is fraught with cliche and formula.

I will wait until Season 3 to see if Bordertown continues to cover the ground I loved in the first season, namely a complicated emotional family life that propels Sorjonen to solve crimes in order to keep his family and community safe.  This season did not move the needle forward with sufficient speed, sagging sometimes painfully, when tighter structure of each crime would have made Session 2  taut and mesmerizing.

Note: Available on Netflix streaming

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  1. I would have agreed with your assessment of the second season, but a funny thing happened after watching the first two episodes. I decided that something had changed between the first season and the second season. I decided we watched the first season in Finnish. So we switched back to watching in Finnish with the English subtitles. We watched the third and four episodes in Finnish. The change gave us back the feel of the original.

    Watching in English was horrible. In other words the dubbing was horrible.

    1. I didn’t know that there was a dubbed version, which I usually dread. We watched the Finnish being spoken with English subtitles. Thank you for alerting our readers to this alternative option. Watch the original Finnish to see the timbre and emotional tone of the actors!

True Detective Season 3–Whodunit…or Not?

For armchair sleuths, the latest season of True Detective will probably not fit neatly into the category of cops-and-killers genre, buddy-cop, film noir, or police procedural.  Surprisingly,True Detective’s latest season has elements of all four.

True Detective Season 3
True Detective Season 3

Set in the Ozarks in the ‘80s (with virulent Jim Crow traditions), the ‘90s, and the recent past (probably 2015 or 2016),  True Detectives focuses on one haunted Vietnam War veteran,  detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), as he investigates the disappearance of a little girl, and the death of her brother.  The narrative is, at times, a murder mystery, a love story,  and a friendship between an African American detective  and his preferentially treated white partner.  In the end, True Detectives  is a   meditation on death, memory, and the fragility of human relationships. 

The cultural and emotional legacy of the Vietnam War becomes increasingly important as we come to know Wayne Hays more completely.  His attempts at introspection and often unsympathetic reactive behavior towards the woman he loves, Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), changes the tone of the mystery.  A schoolteacher who knew the missing kids, Amelia writes a best-selling true-crime novel about the case. 

True Detective Season 3
True Detective Season 3

Although we never really discover what has scarred him so deeply,  Wayne Hays is so tightly bottled up and wounded that his feelings and thoughts are only expressed through watching his face and body as he moves through a world that is often racist.  We see US race relations flash forward through the three time periods of the case.

By 1990, the case is reopened when startling information surfaces. Now Wayne has  married Amelia, and his relationship with his own children–a son and daughter–becomes more remote as he becomes even more obsessed with solving the disappearance of the Purcell girl at the expense of his own family.

 While True Detectives is purportedly a story of obsession and crime, it is the tragic disintegration of Wayne’s mind that makes this season worth watching.  Dropping hints that his recollections might not be as accurate as they seem, that his past as a war veteran causes some of his serious family problems, are important revelations.

His performance drives the series, and is most compelling for the way the crime  intersects with his family life. Despite shadowy distractions, “True Detective” is worth watching for the multifaceted and virtuoso performance of Mahershala Ali.

Note: This is an HBO mini-series.

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