The Lava Field – TV Series from Iceland Now on Netflix

I’m just thinking out loud as well as wondering. How many times have you said to yourself, I’d love to visit Iceland, maybe stay in Reykjavik for a few days. Then take a drive out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and see the lava fields.

I must admit that although I am a world traveler, I’ve never harbored those thoughts. Well if you watch the 4 part 2014 TV series – The Lava Field, which is now airing in Netflix, you can find yourself enmeshed in a murder case in the very same Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and you won’t even have to leave your sofa.

You will be joining Detective Helgi played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson,

and his rookie partner, Greta who is played by Heida Reed.

Helgi is a former Reykjavik homicide detective and he’s been summoned out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which is in western Iceland, and is the same area where he grew up. And still is troubled by an event that happened to him long ago.

He is divorced and had two children with that woman who still lives in the area. One of Helgi’s children died at an early age., So that leaves us with a troubled detective whose past washes over him every day that he is in Snaefellnes.

His partner Greta, is a young rookie detective, fresh out of detective school. She goes for layered clothing on top, and leggings for her lower half. She’s cute, perky, and wholly understands the effect she has on some men. That said, she surprises Helgi  – who as expected didn’t want her as his partner at the outset – with her sleuthing skills.

The show begins with a wealthy financier taking his own life in a swanky beachfront home. Or so it seems.

From there the story expands into financial misdeeds, drug smuggling, and as the cherry on the top – a young six-year-old child goes missing.

We will meet all of these folks as well as the brass at the local police station where Helgi is now working,  There’s the domestic issues with his ex-wife, another kidnapping, and a series of folks come into focus as suspects in all of the above.

Sometimes, the pace slows down to a crawl, and for me, there wasn’t enough action. But all the characters are interesting, and the dynamics between Helgi and Greta are intriguing.

But the biggest pluses of the show are the haunting and mysterious lava field where it is said that if you get lost there, in that lava field, you will never be found. The rest of Iceland is simply stunningly beautiful. And you will see plenty of the country side. Hardly any of Reykjavik itself.

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Agent Raghav – Crime Branch

Resuming our recent series of posts about detectives and criminality overseas, this post will discuss a TV series from India. They call it Agent Raghav – Crime Branch. Portrayed by Sharad Keikar, Raghav is a homicide detective working for the Special Case Unit in the Indian version of the FBI which is known as the CBI or Central Bureau of Investigation.

The headquarters is based in New Delhi, India.

Agent Raghav is certainly brilliant. He notices everything, and is especially astute in taking note of body language and facial expressions. In most of the cases, we will have to depend on him to tell us what we know and that’s because we won’t always notice what he does. That said, the series often takes great pains to show the obvious. Which is another way of saying that there’s an overabundance of reaction shots. Especially between Raghav and his boss.

My problem with Agent Raghav is that he’s good, and he knows it. Which is another way of saying that he is a bit conceited.

His Supervisor in the unit is Agent Trisha Deewan who is played by Aahana Kumra. She’s a tall and willowy woman who is actually quite attractive. She’s particularly driven to succeed in the ranks of the CBI.

And that often leads to differences of opinions between Raghav and Deewan. That said, despite their differences in how to best go about solving a particular case, there’s also a strong subtext of a mutual attraction between them.

Rounding out the unit are two lower ranked agents – Danish Pandor as Agent Rajbir, Jason Tham as Agent Bikram, and a forensic and tech expert – Agent Gauri who is played by Deepali Pansari (holding the umbrella in the above picture).

The series is airing on Netflix and there are thirty episodes.  I’ve watched the first seven and I think I have a good feel and understanding of the series. While the scenes that are supposed to be at the Crime Branch’s HQ – they’ve most likely been shot on a studio set – we get a repetitive static look at the actual CBI Building from the outside. There’s not different views or different angles – no helicopters shots, or even shots of cars pulling up in front of the building.

After a while – it gets a bit stale.

That aside, there is indeed plenty of location shooting.

The crimes are varied and often quite interesting. As an example, the first case involves at least three suicides at the main Delhi train station. All three on different days, but all at the exact same platform location, and at the exact same time, with people stepping off the platform in front of the same train.

Of course there’s a connection between the suicides – but it isn’t obvious.

Other crimes include kidnapping, corporate frauds, love triangles, battles over property and inheritances, and a good deal of cases that you seen before. Not only seen before elsewhere, but done far better on other shows or in different countries.

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HBO’s Wizard of Lies

HBO aired a brand new entry from its film division a few days ago which was Saturday May 20th. They called it Wizard of Lies, and the lead was Robert De Niro as the infamous Bernie Madoff. Michelle Pfeiffer c0-starred as Ruth Madoff.

Most of us remember Mr. Madoff’s fall from grace. And that’s being kind. Madoff was the kingpin in the biggest Ponzi scheme in recorded history. His Asset Management firm gobbled up literally billions of US dollars ($64.8 Billion to be accurate), and in return gave their clients fake statements as documentation of the fake trades.

Madoff took their investment dollars and deposited them into his account at Chase Bank. When a client requested a withdrawal, Madoff paid them out of the money in the Chase account. In a sense this was a never-ending ‘take money from Peter to pay Paul’ scheme with an infinite number of replications.

In Madoff’s own words – It’s a fraud. Basically a big Ponzi scheme. There were no trades, no investments. I made it all up.

Madoff is now known as Prisoner 61727-54 serving out a 150 year sentence in a medium security federal prison in Butner, N.C. which is outside of Raleigh, NC.

The film opens with Madoff being interviewed in this prison by a NY Times reporter – Diana Henriques – who would go on to write a non-fiction book about Madoff and his exploits. Henriques appeared in the film as herself.

Basically this interview established the framework of the film. Our perspective was the interview and then a flashback to the day before Madoff was arrested by the FBI and taken out of his swank Manhattan penthouse in handcuffs.  They didn’t show us the ‘perp walk’ but we didn’t need to see it.

From there we see the interview continued as well as the flashbacks. Basically we never saw the day-to-day operations or said a different way – the nuts and bolts of how this huge scam was perpetrated.

How do you now plead?

We also didn’t see much of the victims who lost millions to Madoff. It wasn’t until the sentencing phase of Madoff’s trial that we saw the victims –

He discarded me like I was road-kill…

He took our entire life savings…

So mostly this was a family drama. De Niro’s Madoff was all internalized struggles. Madoff had this terrible secret which he had to keep from his family and closest friends. There was a line that Madoff said to the reporter – For 16 years I kept this secret from my wife, my sons. How I was able to do that and maintain any degree of sanity…

The film was kind of a Grand Guignol of greed. One might understand how a Madoff might temporarily sink to the depths of this kind of behavior. Oh he did say that he intended to make things right – but he never did. The deception rolled unchecked and unabated for years. Of course there were accomplices – back office types that created the make-believe statements and trade confirms.

Bernie had his penthouse apartment in Manhattan, a swanky beachfront estate in Montauk Pt, NY, an elegant home in the south of France, cars, yachts, jewelry – he even had enough watches to wear a different one each day of the month.

And yet – the film manages to evoke sympathy from the viewer. Not for Bernie, of course – but for Ruth Madoff, and the two sons Andrew and Mark – one of whom committed suicide by hanging himself, and the other died of lymphoma cancer.

That’s Nathan Darrow on the left as Andrew Madoff. Darrow played Edward Meechum for a few seasons on House of Cards. Alessandro Nivona is on the right as Mark Madoff

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Shetland – TV Series on Netflix

Some people who love dogs may be amazed by the instincts and smarts of the dog known as The Shetland Sheep Dog. The dog looks like a small collie and at one time was even known as the Shetland Collie.

But that name was lost in the legal wranglings brought on by the collie breeders. So the Shetland Collie ultimately became known as the Sheltie, and today is known as the Shetland Sheep Dog.

And who among us, both men and women, have not treated ourselves or been gifted a beautiful Shetland Wool Sweater?

So considering that you may already know about the dogs, and the wool, and of course the sheep – where exactly is Shetland?

Southeast of Iceland, west from Bergen, Norway, and northeast out of Scotland are the general instructions to find the Shetland Islands on a map.

You know I like to watch TV series set in places I’ve not been to. One such series is called Shetland and you may currently watch the first three ‘seasons’ on Netflix. I’ve placed quotation marks around the word seasons for a reason.

Season One of Shetland (available for streaming on Netflix) consisted of one mystery which aired in two one hour episodes. This two parter was called Red Bones. This was in effect a ‘pilot’ and was based on the novel Red Bones written by Ann Cleves.

The lead of the series is Detective Inspector Jimmie Perez who is played by Douglas Henshall. Now Henshall in real life, is a Scotsman born and bred. There is a back story of how a Scottish Detective comes to have the name Perez, and it is revealed but really doesn’t command or need a lot of space in this review.

He is ably assisted by Detective Constable later to be promoted to Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh. She’s played by Allison O’Donnell. 

The third member of their team is Detective Constable Sandy Wilson and he’s played by Steve Robertson.

Season One’s Red Bones is about a present time murder that some how reaches back in time and connects with a previous murder some 19 years earlier. We get lots of outdoor location shooting and what seems to be most remarkable is the utter absence of trees. We have lots of green rolling hills and the sea, and an often rocky coastline, but – NO TREES. Most of the roads are narrow, and outside of town, the homes are spread far apart.

For those of you who have watched the TV series Humans, you will be happy to know that Gemma Chan from Humans is in this series. She plays an archeologist involved in a dig for relics from long ago. In case you didn’t know this, humans have lived on the Shetlands all the way back to the Mesolithic Era.

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