“The Undoing”–Deeds Undone

This HBO original mini-series, The Undoingis  a police procedural based upon the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz. 

We observe the daily life of a highly successful New York therapist, Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman), a specialist in marriage counseling, as well her husband, Jonathan (Hugh Grant), a successful  pediatric oncologist. Their teenage son Henry attends an elite private school which receives generous donations from Grace’s father (Donald Sutherland).  At a school fundraiser Grace learns more about a beautiful woman Elena  (newcomer Matilda De Angelis), who turns up brutally murdered the next day. Elena’s son, whose life was saved by Jonathan, attends the same elite school.  The police soon consider Jonathan their primary suspect and the case subsequently goes to trial with Grace’s dad begrudgingly paying for the best criminal defense lawyer in Manhattan. 

When Jonathan takes the stand, he charms with his admission of his flaws and lies, but declares his innocence because he truly loved Elena. Grace is left crushed by his confession of love for the murdered victim. She must decide whether to walk away from life with Jonathan, and create another for her son and herself. Grace struggles with Henry’s obvious grief over their estrangement and the possibility of a murder conviction for his father.  Can their family survive this?  Should they try to remain a family?  Or will there be an inevitable undoing, a wind that threatens to unsettle everything?

There are many exceptional red herrings with so many suspects with motive.  Hints that the cheerful bright exterior of this “one-percenter” couple didn’t really “have it all” seemed to crescendo into a climax involving Grace’s father, her son, her best friend, Elena’s husband, and even Grace.

The ending was disappointing for this viewer, and casts a shadow on the preceding episodes which were often well-done electrifying family drama.  Intergenerational conflict– and a foreboding that ultimately didn’t materialize at all –were notable.  While many viewers judge an entire drama by the ending, and I understand this, The Undoing is still very much worth watching to see excellent performances by both Kidman and Grant, as well as the supporting cast.  Imagine another ending for an unconditional A+

Availability: HBO Max

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 Replies to ““The Undoing”–Deeds Undone”

  1. Have seen it all except the final episode. A friend will tell me the ending after she sees it. Switching TV’s caused this problem. But all good in the long run.

    Sorry to hear of a blah ending. Yes, so far Kidman and Grant are excellent. And the rest of the cast also.

  2. I watched the series and was surprised by the ending, so I didn’t have a problem with it. I saw it as a reminder of just how easy one can be taken in by someone. I agree that the acting was great, as was the cinematography.

    My favorite part of the series was seeing the artwork that reminded me of our local artist, Tracey Adams. Turns out it was her beautiful artwork that was used for a scene in the series!

  3. I loved The Undoing—well-acted, and visually engaging . The various red herrings of possibilities made this program compelling. I agree the ending was a disappointment, though I was on the edge of my seat during the helicopter chase. I give this a thumbs up!

“Retribution”–Karma is a Beast

Retribution  miniseries (Netflix)

Retribution ( a 2016 BBC production originally titled “One of Us”) opens with a horrific double murder, which will tear apart the lives of two families, the Douglases and the Elliots.  They are friends who live side-by-side in the isolated Scotland Highlands hamlet of Braeston.  The atmospherically remote Scottish scenery is  reminiscent of Nordic noir landscapes. 

Events soon take an even more brutal turn when a badly injured man arrives at the Douglas family’s doorstep after his car careens off the road – a man who they soon realize, after nursing his wounds,  is the killer of their adult son and daughter.  The aftermath of the double murder and the discovery of the murderer among them wreaks havoc over the course of the drama for both the Douglases and the Elliots.

Each character in Retribution has his or her own layered, dark backstory.  There are so many revelations and so many characters that the viewer ends up struggling with who is related to whom, and who has inflicted pain and who has suffered.  The characters,  vividly drawn,  are vulnerable and deeply flawed.  Almost everyone, whether a main character or a minor one, has some deep dark secret that propels them to immoral behavior.   Not one person is “normal” or even “likable”, with few exceptions.

Everyone in both families has means, motive and opportunity, resulting in a convoluted whodunit whose perpetrator is not easily guessed until the final episode.

Retribution tightens the tension for the viewer with each episode, and close attention is essential.   What backstory belongs to which character and are that character’s secrets sufficient motive for murder?  This film is unusual in its portrayal of family and what they will and won’t do for each other.  They all seek to protect themselves and those they are related to, even when they no longer love them.

Dynamite story but requiring more than the usual effort to solve the murders.

Availability:  Netflix streaming.  Subtitled captions for the deaf and hearing impaired are recommended, due to the strong Scottish brogue.

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

“Richard Jewell”–A Hidden Gem

In Richard Jewell, a 2019 Clint Eastwood docudrama, Richard Jewell (played by relative unknown Paul Walter Hauser) , is first adored as a  hero for thwarting the  bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. But “alternative facts” and frenzied media coverage turn against him. His daily life is turned upside down when he is considered the principal suspect in the bombing by FBI and local police. 

Jewell is almost a caricature of the lonely white male, living with his mother (Kathy Bates, in an Academy Awards-nominated performance).  Deeply proud of his patriotic duty to uphold the law and protect the community, Jewell goes to herculean efforts to do so.  He  impersonates police on a college campus and  is belligerent to teenagers’ raucus behavior. His excessive obsession  results in the indignities of ridicule and dismissal from his peers and superiors.  Even the teen boys don’t take him seriously.

Then the Olympics bombing occurs.  Finally, Jewell gains the limelight–much to his surprise and satisfaction.  But his behavior fits the FBI profile for a domestic terrorist, and his treatment by government law enforcement, particularly FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) soon becomes a nightmare.  And, of all people, Jewell can’t believe they would treat him as a suspect. 

An engaging and deeply moving performance by Hauser raises this sleeper of a film to an unforgettable one in its portrayal of a bad-luck victim of chance!

Availability: Netflix

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Reply to ““Richard Jewell”–A Hidden Gem”

  1. Thanks Diana, good review and letting people know about a movie that might have slipped under the radar. Look forward to watching.

“The Comey Rule”–Inner Conflict

In this two-part Hulu and Showtime series, FBI Director James Comey (Jeff Daniels) begins a collision course against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Brendan Gleeson).  Based on Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty”, the first part of The Comey Rule follows the investigation into Hillary’s email and its impact on the 2016 election.  Part Two follows the aftermath of the election on Comey’s career and on his family, together with his investigation into Russia, code-named “Crossfire Hurricane”.   This is not just a political docudrama but  an emotional account of what happened:  Comey’s side of the story.

The Comey Rule attempts to give the viewer insight into the stress intertwined within the decisions government civil servants make on a daily basis.   The major question being raised:  Why did Comey do it?  Why did he thrust a hand grenade into the gears of the Democratic Party’s campaign for Hillary Clinton– not just once but twice. There was no going back. 

Watching The Comey Rule we see the moral compass that rigidly guides Comey’s every thought. What an impossible situation he finds himself in, based on the fundamentals of what he stoically considers his only course of action. Without reflecting on the consequences of his actions from a more complex moral gradient, the middle-aged Comey seems to have the naive behavior of a twenty-something bureaucrat not yet used to the bloodsport of politics in DC.   The Comey Rule  is both engrossing and maddening:  seeing how Comey makes his  decisions and how shocked he is by their repercussions.

“What would I have done in Comey’s position?” The Comey Rule offers no simple answer other than Comey sincerely felt he was saving the integrity of the FBI.   There does seem to be tentativeness in how Comey is portrayed in “Crossfire Hurricane”, the catalyst for Trump terminating his career at the FBI .   A man so morally stalwart by his own standards, Comey seems to have wanted to do the right thing no matter what. Refusing to cross a line he had drawn for himself, regardless of advice from his own team members  in the FBI and from his family, Comey is portrayed as a tragic figure.

Jeff Daniels, as is expected, embodies the tortuous conflict within James Comey.   A superb, extraordinarily subtle, but very credible performance.   Regardless of  one’s political proclivities,  The Comey Rule tells a story that needs to be told. And listened to.  It is of Shakespearean proportions.

As a drama, this was so well-executed.  Historians will have to decide. what is fact and what is fiction.  

Although we are too close to truly see what happened, watch The Comey Rule.  It is disturbing.   

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Queen’s Gambit–A Passion for Winning

Queen's Gambit Netflix original

The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story based upon the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name.  A Netflix original series released October 30 of this year, the drama opens with a scene of an eight-year old girl, Beth Harmon (newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy), soon to become an orphan  residing at a bleak orphanage, Methuen, under a severe headmistress.  It is the mid-1950s and there are few options for an orphan, especially a little girl.

Struggling with loneliness, adoption and being a social misfit, Beth finds solace through learning chess from the janitor (Bill Camp) in the Methuen School’s basement. As she begins to earn begrudging recognition as a chess prodigy, emotional issues  with drug and alcohol dependency compete with her drive to win at all costs.   She is adopted as a teenager into a dysfunctional family. Her adoptive mother is both a support and an enabler in her addictions. If Beth Harmon doesn’t keep on winning, she will lose her soul in her aggressive fight for deliverance from her past.  

Watching The Queen’s Gambit the viewer may feel as if chess  is an endgame for survival. Other chess movies have also made the game a metaphor for redemption and transformation.  (Think In Search of Bobby Fischer and Queen of Katwe reviewed here on November 13, 2018). 

 Although the authenticity of the chess tournaments may be surprisingly riveting to some, for others they may slow down the pacing.  Nevertheless, Beth’s inner life and that of her friends and opponents still create a compelling story.  Watching Beth struggle on her journey to becoming independent and proud, –breaking  barriers to being the first female international chess grandmaster– is mirrored in each chess move.  You have to cheer for this underdog.  And some of the creativity in photographing the chess pieces truly is brilliant (including imagining a strategic slide of the queen’s pawn on the room’s ceiling).

Highly original and  surprisingly entertaining, this  mini-series is  a daring move indeed!

Availability:  Netflix streaming.

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 Replies to “The Queen’s Gambit–A Passion for Winning”

  1. Diana:
    I am delighted to find your excellent review of The Queen’s Gambit. We finished the series about a week ago and found it engaging and fascinating. We don’t let ourselves binge watch (too much else to do), but this one almost got us.
    Thanks for a great review. We have already recommended the series to several friends–something we rarely do.
    –Matilda

  2. Queen’s Gambit is one of the best drama mini-series I’ve seen in years. Absolutely adored it and savored each episode until the end! I was hoping it was a true story. Thanks, Diana for reviewing it!

  3. I loved this series! At first we thought it might be too formulaic, but it became a little more complex, interesting and engaging. For my Chess playing husband, he did find the chess competitions, etc. interesting, too, once we got “into” the story. When we finished the series (the last 3 episodes in one evening,) a review in the NYT showed up that has renewed my interest into watching the series again to relax and look for subtleties that I now want to look for after reading the NYT review.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/03/arts/television/chess-queens-gambit.html?referringSource=articleShare

“The Social Dilemma”– Addiction or Threat?

This is a  Netflix docudrama not to be missed.  The Social Dilemma  a  granular investigation of the rise of social media and the  ongoing damage it is causing to segments of society around the globe, is chilling.  Focusing on exploitation of Internet  users, The Social Dilemma, produced by Jeff Orlowski, reveals how  most users are oblivious about how their surfing patterns have been monetized. We are all   highly valuable assets being sold for financial gain.  The user ‘s data is sold to advertisers through embedded algorithms.  The advertisers are the real customers of the social media giants.   Just follow the money.  Do we pay to use Facebook? Who does?  

The business model has been designed to create an addiction:  from maintaining “eyeballs”  from the three  bouncing balls the user sees while  waiting for  an incoming text to the “Like” and “hearts” buttons  which cause warm feelings validating the individual’s status and self-worth.  The content associated with the eyeballs (or “traction”) is then catalogued according to preferences, biases, and behavioral patterns to enable efficient data-mining.    Throughout The Social Dilemma, a teenager’s social-media addiction is dramatized with actors playing the roles of the naive young users being controlled by powerful algorithms structured by artificial intelligence.  The teenagers don’t stand a chance of ever detoxing.

That social media can be addictive and threatening isn’t news to anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn (Isn’t that most of us?).  But the most disturbing and pernicious aspect of Jeff Orlowski’s documentary is that the system is designed structurally to gather BigBrother information for profit.  That is the  business model.

An advertising mecca results.  In the hands of companies like Facebook and Twitter, the ads can be tailored to the potential customer’s taste.  Social media platforms’ use in politics, their effect on mental health and their role in spreading conspiracy theories  can and has undermined the stability of communities.

With Machiavellian precision,  the psychology of social media is at the cellular level.  Users want to be with the same tribe (blocking those who disagree), because that is a primordial imperative for survival.    Infinite scrolling and push notifications designed to feed information that the  users want to believe keeps us constantly addicted.  And this  personalized “data” not just  predicts but influences our actions.  Our world is thus re-created by the clickbait the largest social media companies predict we’re most comfortable seeing.  This is confirmation bias at its most extreme.  Advertisers and political propagandists are delivered the prey they earnestly seek with increasing accuracy.

To turn social media into some sort of Frankenstein for the digital age is too simplistic.  Social media can be an incredibly valuable tool for fact-finding, for mobilization of people’s good will and for efficient dissemination of news. However, what is dangerous in The Social Dilemma is how the tech experts (who were instrumental in developing the algorithms for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) are themselves deeply alarmed by how  positive social changes can suddenly and dramatically be hijacked,   morphing into changes that are nefarious and incendiary. 

Similar to how television was eventually regulated for its intrusion upon children’s minds for commercial success, The Social Dilemma raises the question: what can be done now that the genie is out of the bottle?  One answer proposed is that user information be treated as a taxable asset. Undoubtedly tech  companies would pass on the cost of the taxes causing advertisers to buy less..  Congress is now holding hearings on the monopolistic nature of the mega social media corporations, but The Social Dilemma hovers more closely to the specter of human engineering in the hands of potentially ruthless agents. Compliance and regulation are long overdue.

Truly eye-opening and disturbing.

Availability:  The Social Dilemma premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was released on Netflix on September 9, 2020.

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

“Hinterland” —The Remote Interior of the Mind

An  original Welsh-noir murder series on Netflix (in three seasons, 13 total episodes), Hinterland  is for those who love this genre.   The main character, DCI Tom Mathias, is a deeply troubled unsympathetic detective who, together with his more mature and brilliant partner Mared Rhys, travels around a small hamlet in Wales solving at least one murder per episode.  The dark, forboding, and gloomy landscape rivals that of the best Nordic noir raising the same question: how can there be so many murders in such a small town?  Dark and at times, sinister and ominous, the Welsh scenery parallels the characters and their secretive, bleak, often damaged lives.  There is a hinterland or backstory for each character.

Police investigatory work in Hinterland often seems to go  nowhere. Where are the brilliant breakthroughs?  In this police procedural, Mathias and his supernaturally patient partner, Mared, lead the viewer to red herring after red herring, sometimes at an annoyingly slow pace. There are few malevolently brilliant  masterminds which makes the surprising endings even less expected. 

 
If you like detectives unraveling intricate master plans, only a few episodes provide that type of drama.   The suspect is never the “easy” one with means, motive, and opportunity.  Even when the perpetrator is identified early on, the motivation is superbly unraveled,  with an infrequent note of empathy for why he or she committed the murder. Broken murderers abound.   Moral lessons to be learned are often paired with  suffering that created more suffering.

The structuring of the three seasons with the “book-ending” of  episode one (in Season One) with the finale (in Season Three) is exceptional.  While each episode stands on its own for a single murder, it is beginning in Season Two that we see how the show’s screenwriters wished to tightly weave the darkest hinterland of psychological pain into the climax in Season Three’s finale.  

For those who also appreciate exceptional photography and cinematography, each episode has beautiful framing of shots through door frames and windows to underscore the need to shift perspective along side the detectives Mathias and Rhys. 

Highly recommend this sleeper!  

Availability: Netflix streaming.

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Reply to ““Hinterland” —The Remote Interior of the Mind”

  1. Hey,
    not a fan of murder stories. As a former therapist I’ve seen enough anger and brutality and don’t find it interesting. They are sad, pitiful people in need of help.

The Way I See It–What’s Before Your Eyes

The Way I See It, a documentary film released by MSNBC on October 16, 2020, narrates the career of  the former Chief Official White House Photographer, Pete Souza.  He covered  two of the most popular US presidents of the past fifty years:  Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. 

Only in his mid-twenties when he was invited to be the White House official photographer for Ronald Reagan, Souza admits he wasn’t a fan of Reagan’s politics but  came to admire Reagan’s loving relationship with Nancy. The Way I See It zooms in on the couple holding hands after the First Lady’s surgery.  Souza humanizes his subject matter with a lens that exudes emotion.  But The Way I See It is all about the Obamas.

When Souza meets President Obama for the first time at the White House, Obama chuckles:  “We’re going to have some fun.” And that is exactly what happens.  Remarkably,  Souza captures intimate and tender moments: e.g. Barack coaching daughter Sasha’s middle-school basketball team “as if they were the NBA.” But Souza also documents what are now iconic images–  Obama, Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking officials riveted to the screen as they witness the raid on Osama bin Laden; Obama shedding tears with Sandy Hook parents after the massacre;  hugging a severely handicapped soldier   after his return from the Middle East.  

The seemingly invisible camera of Souza’s captures eight years of the Obamas’ lives, taking hundreds of thousands of photographs.  Evolving into an exceptionally close relationship between photographer and the photographed, Souza profoundly and brilliantly encapsulates emotion in each of his shots.  In a lighthearted scene, the viewer is treated to  Souza being encouraged to marry his partner of eleven years, and being offered a wedding ceremony in the Rose Garden with President Obama serving as the officiant for an inducement.  Other humorous clips:  when Souza claims Obama’s actual favorite moment of his presidency  is  blocking Reggie Love’s shot on the basketball court; or an impromptu snowball fight and snow-angel matchup between Obama and his daughters. 

Souza is seen in 2017, when his tenure as White House photographer has ended, photographing birds in the woods near his home.  For an apparently self-effacing man accustomed to drawing attention to the person in front of the lens, not behind it, Souza will soon become the unanticipated center of attention for a new cohort of fans.  Appalled by Trump’s lack of empathy and his policy of refusing to allow candid photos, Souza begins an  Instagram account that evolves into a  political commentary. Souza himself seems surprised at the turn his life has taken, when he starts “throwing shade” (the name of his second book of photographs)  at Trump  by pairing the tweets from the current POTUS with contrasting photos of Obama, gaining more than 2.6 million Instagram followers, and becoming something of a cult celebrity. 

Scrupulously avoiding politics until the onset of the Trump years, Souza shows us a glimpse of what life was like in the Trump White House: candid documentation replaced by staged self-adulation. If  you’re feeling nostalgic,  maybe The Way I See It will be comforting.  Otherwise, if you remember a time when the US president behaved like an adult with integrity, not a narcissistic delinquent, bring out the kleenex.

Availability:  MSNBC and Amazon Prime.

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 Replies to “The Way I See It–What’s Before Your Eyes”

  1. Hey,
    I have seen a lot of these photos of Obama taken by Souza. They were wonderful, light and happy and smart. Obama did a great job despite lack of help from Congress and racism. I’m not surprised the photographer resigned with Trump. I imagine in his career he’ll continue to produce wonderful work.

  2. Thanks, Diana!
    I loved this film! Heartwarming and interesting.
    I like that you caught Souza’s sharing Obama’s sense of humor and the staging of the tRump administration’s photos.

    It is also available on Youtube.

“Flesh and Blood”–Deadly Sins

Don’t be fooled.  This dysfunctional family gives the appearance of happiness and love,  but Flesh and Blood disguises a murder.  This mystery-thriller set in the sunshine and warm beaches of West Sussex is a multigenerational psychodrama. The gentle surf and sunny skies can lull the residents into a false sense of comfort and security.  Flesh and Blood immediately goes to the darkly secretive interior family drama that throws shade on the murdered. Wisely keeping the identity of the victim hidden,–although the obscured victim is wheeled into an ambulance in the opening scene–viewers are left guessing which of the two main characters was murdered. 

The major narrative is an affluent widow’s new romance at the age of almost–seventy.  Retired Dr. Mark Kenneally seems the perfect romantic partner for her:  warm, understanding, and completely devoted to her.  On Vivien’s  seventieth birthday, family secrets and betrayal surface in a perfect storm.  Vivien (the beautiful Francesca Annis), in pursuing her desire for companionship and adventure eighteen months after her husband’s passing.  Disappointed,  she  is confronted with her adult kids’ disapproval, envy, and rivalry over their expected inheritance.   The ugly lives of each of the three adult children impact how they feel towards their mother’s newfound joy and passion.  All three are deeply suspicious of Dr. Mark Keneally.

To increase the tensions further, there is the septuagenarian neighbor, Mary (Imelda Staunton in an impeccably nuanced performance).  She is timid, lonely and living her life through the seemingly perfect family she watches with binoculars from her kitchen window. But Mary is uncomfortably crossing boundaries of identity between herself and Vivien.  Having no close family of her own,–her husband gone and her young son dead– she has been a second mother, not solely a caregiver,  to Vivien’s three children.  Mary’s passive-aggressive helpfulness eggs on  the adult children’s conflict with their mother’s romantic relationship with the doctor.   Vivien seems to have sincere affection for Mary but Mary appears unhealthily attached to Vivien.

As for Mark:  Is he hiding something?  Is he really what he seems?  

In this four-episode whodunit, we see the police detective interview the three adult children and the neighbor.  However, not all of the background information they provide on the days leading up to the murder quite match the truths the viewer is shown.

Highly entertaining and clever–a great evening’s worth of binge-viewing on Masterpiece Theater, or relish this mystery thriller in smaller doses.  For those who like Flesh and Blood, you’ll also enjoy the novel Things Unsaid.

Note:  Available on pbs.org under Masterpiece Theater programs. Not to be confused with Hulu’s original series: Flesh and Blood–Into the Dark.

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

“Ratched”–Ratcheting Up the Tension

This Netflix quasi-horror thriller creates a backstory for Nurse Ratched, the heartless villain in the 1975 Academy-Award winning classic “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  “What made Ratched so vile and so unimaginably cruel and unempathetic?” The answer, of course, has roots in Nurse Ratched’s  tragic early years, unhealed wounds that continue to fester.   Ratched is a female-villain origin story.  

Ratched  opens in 1947 as Mildred Ratched arrives in Big Sur to seek employment at a leading psychiatric hospital.  New experiments, believed to be cutting-edge,  have begun on the mostly affluent patients committed to their care. But there is  a brutal darkness within the hospital’s walls, literally cutting-edge, as lobotomies and other heinous surgical operations become almost daily routine.  In  eight episodes set in Hitchcock-style scenes, the diabolical scheming regurgitates similar carnage to “American Horror Story”(by the same producer, Ryan Murphy).

 In Ratched Sarah Paulson (also starring in “American Horror Story”)  plays the conniving, pathologically manipulative title character.  She performs with such intensity that the viewer wants to turn away from watching   how she entertains herself by creating chaos at others’ expense. As a predator master-planning each killing blow, Ratched’s targets all know she is coming for them but none are her match.  

The first four episodes are spellbinding, with an occasional act of kindness from Ratched to prevent a  one-dimensional  villain and sadist.   Ratched becomes understandable–if not relatable.  A subplot in which she has a tenuous relationship with Gwendolyn Briggs (the always wonderful Cynthia Nixon) has some of the best dialogue in the series. 

Nurse Ratched  becomes a metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority.  And in Ratched, almost everyone is amoral.  Mildred’s co-worker and adversary, Nurse Betsy Bucket (the terrific Judy Davis), has the same ice-cold authoritarian blood. And Edmund, Mildred’s brother (Finn Wittrock), is both the embodiment of evil and a hopelessly wounded victim.   

The second half of the mini-series stands in stark contrast to the first.  In Episode 5 the story goes into a dizzying spiral downward in both plot and structure.  Charlotte Wells (the astonishing actor  Sophie Okonedo) is a patient being treated for severe multiple personality disorder. Why she is introduced and so poorly interwoven with the other characters is puzzling.  Okonedo, in a role not worthy of her in spite of sensational acting,   unravels the first half of what otherwise would have been an extraordinarily riveting narrative.  The first four episodes could stand alone as a far more integrated whole.  

Conclusion:  Watch for a very exciting story for the first half.  Stop if you don’t have time or the inclination to finish what is a very disappointing downhill narrative .

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Reply to ““Ratched”–Ratcheting Up the Tension”

“Van der Valk”– Going Dutch

Van der Valk PBS series

This quirky three-episode police procedural on Masterpiece Theater follows a  sullen, street-smart Dutch detective, Piet Van der Valk (Marc Warner), who  navigates the seedier side of lively Amsterdam.   Each two-hour episode of Van der Valk involves a  distinct crime that can be watched on its own. 


Solving convoluted crimes using astute human observation and inspired detection, Van der Valk is successful, in part, due to the support of  Inspector Lucienne Hassell (Maimie McCoy) and rookie Officer Job Cloovers (Elliot Barnes Worrell).  Cloovers is a brilliant,  nerdy intern who is barely tolerated by the sometimes overbearing Van der Valk. 

Since Van Der Valk investigates with little regard for police ethics or policies, his exasperated boss, Chief Inspector Dahlman (Emma Fielding), is often on the verge of firing him. His partner, Lucienne,  as second-in-command, tolerates his antics and supports him, and suspects he is  possibly deeply damaged, sometimes revealing touching moments. 

The first episode, “Love in Amsterdam”, deals with a political campaign pitting an alt-right wing politician against a progressive, popular candidate for mayor.  With two murders involving his campaign workers and a surprise romantic connection, the progressive candidate’s pending scandal may cause the end of his career.  

In the second episode, “Only in Amsterdam,” a Muslim worker at an addiction clinic is found dead. Evidence
 from a religious book of erotic rituals connects her murder to a Catholic nun and two academics who specialize in this arcane religious cult. 

In episode three, “Death in Amsterdam”,  a fashion vlogger with a number of enemies is found dead.  Cloovers takes a particular interest in the case since he follows that vlogger’s posts.  In this finale, we see why 

Inspector  Van Der Valk is irritating and unlikable, a guarded cipher no more. His proclivity towards wrong-headed   romantic hook-ups also gets some closure, although maybe a bit later than the mini-series warrants. 

Having Van der Valk’s second lieutenant, Lucienne, be a lesbian police officer, not his romantic interest (as in the majority of male-female detective teams on screen and in mysteries) makes for a more original and idiosyncratic relationship between the two.  And in spite of–perhaps because — they see each other’s flaws,  the two detectives feel even more respect and affection for each other.

The red herrings are often subtle with clues that do not reveal the perpetrator, taking the reviewer on a tangent to another purported murderer.  While Van der Walk has wonderful twisted plots, sometimes it is difficult  to follow the path of clues, with many characters’  names to remember and clues stacked more heavily in the second half of each episode than the first.  As a consequence of clue-stacking during the last half-hour, the middle of each episode sometimes sags as the pacing slows.

An entertaining, challenging set of mysteries to solve,   the second and third episodes of Van der Valk are more cleverly constructed than the first.

Availability:  On pbs.org

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 Replies to ““Van der Valk”– Going Dutch”

  1. Hey,
    I’ve been watching. Generally I’ve found it less interesting than I expected. Once I didn’t stay for the second half. The first dragged on. I don’t feel connected except to the new, smart detective who Van Der Valk almost ignores, probably because the detective is as smart as Van Der Valk, he bothers with details. I hope his role will grow bigger, otherwise I’ll stop watching.

“Them That Follow”–Faith, Interrupted

Them That Follow  (2019) is an odd  American indie thriller about an Appalachian, Pentecostal, Charismatic snake-handling Christian cult.  A close-knit community with extremely strong beliefs, it exists on the far-fringe of mainstream society. This is the backdrop for a love story between the Pentecostal pastor’s daughter and a boy in the community who no longer is fervent in his faith.

Mara Childs (newcomer Alice Englert) is a dutiful  daughter, raised to believe that her faith unites the community in a holy bond protecting them from others outside their religion.  Her father, the pastor Lemuel (Walter Goggins of “Justified”) is relieved  that his daughter, in her late teens, has agreed–albeit reluctantly– to marry Garrett, one of the parishioners he’s most fond of.  However, Mara really loves  Augie Slaughter (newcomer Thomas Mann) who has distanced himself from the church, much to his mother’s dismay  (Olivia Colman as Hope Slaughter).

By handling poisonous snakes,  worshippers demonstrate their faith in putting their lives in God’s hands.  If you avoid being bitten or survive the venom  all of your sins may be forgiven.. After a minor dies during a snake- handling church meeting, police warn Lemuel he is under investigation for reckless endangerment of a minor, and perhaps for murder. 

For the first half of the film, Mara does not question her father or her own faith, until she becomes engaged to Garrett, who doesn’t understand her disinterest in him. By the second half  Mara finds herself in an existential crisis, in which she must choose between her faith  and her love for Augie.  

Them That Follow  moves slowly with some irrelevant scenes during the first half of the drama,  but once the story moves to family dynamics and the sacrifices individuals have to make in order to save their souls, it becomes dramatic and tense.   A faith that had once been human and natural, now morphs into something twisted and grotesque like the snakes in the church’s vestibule.  We see the conflict between the security offered by the religious community and the courage needed to move beyond that community. 

The ending is unexpected.  While flawed, Them That Follow held this viewer’s attention until the end.  Any opportunity to watch Olivia Colman is worth taking and the other members of the cast provide nuanced performances.  This is not for everyone.  But it is  a glimpse into a controversial, quirky slice of Americana which is disturbing.

Available on Netflix DVD.

Note:  Them That Follow  was filmed in Youngstown and Salem, Ohio as a substitute for the more southern Appalachia region. In 2013 there were roughly 125 snake-handling churches in central Florida to West Virginia and as far west as Columbus, Ohio, as well in Edmonton and British Columbia.  Pentecostal Holiness churches base their  snake handling services  on a very literal interpretation of a biblical passage from the gospel of Mark 16:17-18:  “In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *