Taboo – New Series on FX Begins January 10th

While Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the brand new TV Series on cable channel FX called Taboo are both set in 19th Century London, they are in different time frames. But they do share a similar foundation.

In Sweeney Todd, a judge sentences a man, who is innocent of a crime to a penal colony in Australia in the mid 1840’s. 15 years later the man returns and he is revenge-minded.

Taboo begins with a man, long thought to have perished in the sinking of a slave ship off the coast of Africa years ago, now returns to London after apparently 10 years. He is James Keziah Delaney. He is played by Tom Hardy, and the series is set in the era of Regency London of 1814.

The entire story of Taboo has already been hinted at strongly in the first hour. But I’ll label the four numbered paragraphs below with the term MILD SPOILERS.

1) James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) likely had sex with his half-sister who is married and known as Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) – which may be why he was forced to ship off to Africa years back. We see no flash backs (at least not in Episode One) to make it a certainty, so I am going off the title of the series plus the contents of a letter she penned to Hardy’s Delaney in which she asks that the past remain the past.

2) The East India Company headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) and his partners want that parcel of land (a part of Vancouver Island) bequeathed to Delaney by his recently departed Dad. They obviously know prime real estate when they see it. They even call it the gateway to China.

3) Delaney will seek revenge (against some one as yet still undisclosed) as he’s learned (after arranging an illegal post-burial autopsy) that his Dad was poisoned.

4) The first guy to die could be the half sister’s husband. His name is Thorne Geary – a vile name if there ever was one. He is played by Jefferson Hall.  He’s already displayed a strong temper, he’s maltreated his wife (I again am assuming) and he ‘s already threatened to kill Delaney. Again for reasons not made clear.

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Yes this is London circa 1814. Dark and gloomy all over town. The rich had many more candles than did the poor, who mostly are dirty with rotted teeth, and are candle poor. Hardy’s Delaney strides about in a top hat and black long coat.

Delaney arrives at Dad's Funeral

Delaney arrives at Dad’s Funeral

He’s more than a bit shadowy and things that go on a round him are often strange and inexplicable. For example, somehow, there an elegant white horse waiting for him (maybe a rental) when he makes land from the ship that came in from Africa. He buries something or is he digging something up – it is hard to tell.

He’s a man of mystery, who is more than intriguing, and you can tell that he’s got stuff swirling around within him, that will make the entire East India Company Board of Directors wish they hadn’t antagonized him. Delaney never even opened the envelope that contained what the EIC considered a fair price for the pile of rocks – that parcel of land off Nootka Channel now owned by Delaney.

I don’t think I am wrong to expect that what we will see in the upcoming episode will be more violent and bloody. After all the show is rated as MA (Mature), L (Language) and V (Violent).

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Call My Agent! aka Dix pour Cent

Edit dated May 12th, 2017 – An advisory to let you know that Call My Agent’s second season began airing in France last month. Hopefully Netflix will see fit to acquire the right to this new season for airing in the USA later this year.

In real life, and at the top of the list of Film Talent Agencies we have the CAA (Creative Artist Agency), and WME (William Morris Endeavor). And there a few hundred more. Narrowing our focus to just one agent, from television, specifically the HBO show Entourage, we have the fictional super-agent Ari Gold.

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Now let me add one agency to our discussion.

Also from television, French TV specifically, via Netflix, we have the fictional agency known all over Paris as ASK. Which is the acronym for the boutique film talent agency Samuel Kerr.

ASK is a small shop set up in a swanky 1st Arrondissiment location – just four agents (all firm partners) with assistants, a receptionist,

The receptionist Sofi played by Stefi Celma

The receptionist Sofi played by Stefi Celma

a senior partner,  plus a billing/accounting department to keep track of money both in and out. There’s a press department, and finally there’s a legal department that checks that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted in all the contracts. Then add in an ingenue – she’s just been hired as an assistant to a tough agent.boss who’s previous assistant has just walked out in frustration just minutes before.

I’m really talking about another new series on Netflix and another new series from overseas. Netflix is calling it Call My Agent! In France, they called it Dix pour Cent or (in English – 10 Per Cent.). Between you and me, this comedy series (6 episodes of an hour each) is a lot of laughs and a joy to watch.

The neat element they use, probably lifted from Entourage, is that each of the episodes centers around real-life French film stars playing themselves. Of course there are issues to contend with and our bunch of agents can go crazy trying to resolve each one.

Take Episode 1 called Cecile. The Cecile in question is Cecile De France. She is soon to appear in the upcoming HBO series, The Young Pope which begins on January 15th. Cecile plays opposite Jude Law in TYP. In this episode, she’s a major film star and is up for a role in Tarantino’s next film, and she is late for a photo shoot. Her agent, Gabriel Sarda, played by Gregory Montel,  is frantically trying to reach her.

Cecile is out in the suburbs taking a horse riding lesson, as in the Tarantino film she will have to ride a horse. She’s told everyone that, Oui, I can ride, but that’s false.

As if that wasn’t enough of a problem, Gabriel, her agent, gets a text that Tarantino has decided that Cecile is too old for the part, so they are not going to sign her for the movie. Sarda is of course devastated. So much so, that he can’t bring himself to tell Cecile.

Naturally that sets the carousel in motion. Cecile will fire Gabriel as her agent, and hire another partner at ASK, one Matthias Barneville,

Thibault de Montalembert as Matthias

Thibault de Montalembert as Matthias

who has used some threats about getting the licenses to shoot in Paris approved to persuade one of Tarantino’s producers to agree to get Cecile’s role back.

The ingenue was the one who leaked the news to Cecile about why Tarantino passing on Cecile

The ingenue was the one who leaked the news to Cecile about why Tarantino is passing on Cecile for the role.

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Tokyo Trial

Formally, it was called The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Convened in late April, 1946, the purpose of this trial, also known as the Tokyo Trial, was to try the leaders of Japan for three kinds of war crimes.

Netflix, in conjunction with the Japanese TV Network called NHK, Don Carmody Television, and FATT Productions, has made this mini-series (4 episodes) available to its streaming service subscribers.

General Douglas MacArthur appointed 12 judges (the 12th was a replacement as one judge left to return home. These judges came from 11 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, UK., USA. and the Soviet Union.

The expectation was that the trial would last about 6 months. Instead it lasted 2 1/2 years, or about 1000 days.

MacArthur not only agreed to prosecute 28 Japanese leaders but he also approved the Charter which gave the Tribunal the right to prosecute the Japanese.

They would be charged in three categories.

  1. Crimes of Aggression
  2. Crimes against humanity
  3. Conventional war crimes

Using the Nuremberg Trials as the precedent, the President of the Tribunal,  Sir William Webb from Australia, believed that they had the moral authority as well as the legal authority to try to convict the Japanese. Item # 1 would prove to be both a stumbling block as well as a controversial point in their judicial discussions.

Webb was played by Tim Ahern in this production.

The item #1 – Crimes of Aggression – was also known as Crimes against peace. The concept of this was to charge the top Japanese leaders with: leading, organizing, instigating, or being accomplices in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to wage wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law.

Said another way – this concept was the opposite of a self-defensive war effort.

The first of the justices to step up and disagree was the Indian Rabhabinod Pal, a Judge on the Calcutta High Court. He argued, in a lengthy dissenting opinion (over 1200 pages) that a) At the time of the crimes, there was no international law against waging an ‘aggressive’ war. The basics of that was the Japanese were being charged retroactively. He also argued that b) the argument of the prosecution was quite weak with regard to the conspiratorial aspects of waging an aggressive war, and c) there was nothing to show that these crimes were a product of government policy or that the Japanese government officials were directly responsible for the atrocities committed (like the events in Nanking, China, or the maltreatment and abuse of POWs).

Indian actor Irrfan Khan had the role of Justice Pal.

Also in the trenches (at least in the pre-verdict discussions) with Judge Pal was the Law Professor from New Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Professor Bert Röling.

Dutch actor Marcel Hensema played Röling.

On the other side of the ledger, meaning those who argued (most strenuously in favor of the prosecution)  were the Scottish Judge, The Honorable Lord Patrick, the Chinese Judge, Mei ju-ao, and the Canadian, Edward Stuart McDougall, Justice of the Court of King’s Bench of Quebec. In today’s terms, they would be called the hawks.

Paul Freeman played Lord Patrick.

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The Break aka La Treve – Now On Netflix

Have you ever been to or driven through the Ardennes?

Do you know where the Ardennes are? Though I knew the name, I had to look them up to be able to place them on a map. The Ardennes are a hilly and forested area that is mostly in South East Belgium. but also included a part of Northern France and Luxembourg.

The Ardennes, specifically the small town of Heiderfeld, Belgium is the location of a new offering from Netflix. The original title was La Treve which is French for ‘The Truce’, but Netflix has chosen to call this 10 episode series ‘The Break’.

In fact La Treve’s English translation can almost mean something like:

A break in the hostilities
A respite
A ceasefire
or peace.

Which fits the series exactly. Here’s a version of the story line for La Treve:

The body of 19-year-old Driss Assani, above, who is a young African from Togo, recruited to play soccer for the Heiderfeld football club,

is pulled out of the river Semois, a short distance from Heiderfeld, a small town of a few thousand inhabitants in the Belgian Ardennes. The police investigation is led by Inspector Yoann Peeters, who has recently moved there after a personal domestic tragedy and a professional one as well. Peeters is aided by Sebastian Drummer, an idealistic and inexperienced young police officer.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Peeters is adamant that the death was not a suicide, as in a leap from the local bridge. That’s Peeters on the bridge in the image below.

The suicide idea was formulated by the local chief of police, who, likely – above all other considerations, wanted to keep the peace, close the case, and not stir things up.

At this point, there’s a flash forward, and we find that Detective Peeters is in a psychiatric hospital and is under going an evaluation. We have no idea why.

And that is the basis for the series. It is sort of like a TV series told in separate layers:

The Present time: The murder investigation as led by Peeters
The Past: The fact of how Driss was killed is shown in different perspectives as new suspects come into play
The Future: Peeters is in a psych ward.

I kind of liked the show as it seemed to be drawn from the British series Broadchurch. In the British show, a new cop came into a British coastal town with some baggage which included a problematic situation as a policeman in another jurisdiction, Yoann Peters is in the same situation as he headed up the disastrous Operation Berger, which led to four police officers being killed in Brussels.

Peeters is played by an actor called Yoann Blanc. Peeters is intense and driven, to put it mildly. In addition, he is popping antidepressants and amphetamines. It is obvious that while he seems over his wife’s passing, and the infamous Operation Berger, the affair in Brussels, externally – in reality, he’s still a struggling work in progress.

But if only it was just a lead detective struggling to solve a case, and overcome his personal demons at the same time. Heiderfeld is a small town but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. In no particular order there’s the issue of teenage drug use and sex, an ambitious dam project that will require some locals to give up their lands and homes, a crooked soccer coach who has a history of fixing games, and the soccer players are still waiting for their signing bonuses.

There’s a hermit like guy who lives in the woods. He’s called Indian Jeff and he is who the police like as the killer. Then we have a young man, the son of diplomats, who throws wild parties involved sex and drugs. There’s an older fellow who has his own museum of Nazi paraphernalia and artifacts. Let’s not forget a woman who twenty years prior was Peeter’s girl friend.

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Dicte: Season 3 now Available on Netflix

In case you hadn’t noticed, the 3rd season of Dicte is out and available on Netflix streaming. Dicte in seasons 1 and 2 was a reporter for the Aarhus (Denmark) Dag Bladet internet newspaper. Well, this season, she (Dicte is played by Iben Hjejle) begins the season with her wedding to Bo.

She’s no longer on staff with newspaper, no doubt because she’s writing a book, and secondly – the paper’s management has turned over. Dicte’s friends Detective John Wagner and Linda Bendtsen of the Aarhus police return,

as does Dicte’s daughter Rosa, her best friend Anne Skov Larsen, and Dicte’s ex-husband Torsten.

Bo and Dicte have to postpone their honeymoon as he has to travel to Lebanon on assignment. Something serious will happen to Bo and this will change the entire series in Season 3. Bo is kidnapped and a huge ransom is necessary.

Dicte doesn’t have the money demanded – a million US so she’s forced to look up her biological father who is a wealthy industrialist. She’s under a lot of stress and finally confesses what is going on to John Wagner.

Soon shocking news arrives. A body is being brought back from Lebanon and Dicte is called to the airport to identify the body.

Readers, that is about as far as I will take you in so far as introducing Season 3. The first two episodes are an emotional roller coaster for Dicte and for we viewers as well.

Some characters will go and some others will be introduced. That said, the format of the show remains the same. Five stories or crimes presented in two parts. A lt of location shooting and some very strong performances.

Watch for two new characters – Nina Storm is John Wagner’s ex-wife. She will return to Aarhus, and without giving much away – she brings a lot of baggage with her. Actress Stine Stengade has the role. While you might not like the character, Stengade gives us a strong performance.

Another new character is Tonni. I can’t tell you where he fits in as that would create a spoiler. I will say, that if you are familiar with the three seasons of the Danish political series Borgen, you will recognize him. Soren Malling who played Torben Friis in Borgen has the role.

There will some stressful times for both Rosa and Dicte’s friend Anne. Torsten will be looking to buy  a home out of the city, in a commune. Dicte herself will find much to stress about.

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No Second Chance aka Une Chance de Trop

How about a six-part TV series that has a kidnapping, multiple murders, secret service agents, plenty of twists and turns, great action sequences, and some terrific dramatic scenes. Adapted from the Harlan Coben novel, French TV has made the book No Second Chance into a rather well done series. They re-titled it to Une Chance de Trop for the French Market. And the best news is that you can see it on your Netflix Streaming service right now.

The star is Alexandra Lamy who plays Dr. Alice Lambert. For the record, she has 48 acting credits, but unless you live in France, she’s likely to be new to you. Also for the record, she was formerly married to French actor Jean Dujardin who is most famous for his role in The Artist – a film that walked off with an armful of Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. But I digress.

Here’s the lead into the film. We begin at a birthday party for a baby less than a year old. This is Tara, Dr. Alice’s daughter. All seems idyllic. But then…..days later….

Alice, the doctor, is shot in the back in her home, her husband is murdered and her infant daughter kidnapped. Faced with inept police, who at times suspect her, she begins her own hunt for her baby and the culprits.

That’s the thumbnail description of the film on IMDB. But that is the kind of sped up version. We actually see her get shot, but we don’t see by who.

We find her in the ICU of a Paris hospital. The police hover around her ready to pounce and ask some questions.

What can you tell us?

I was preparing a bottle for Tara, and now I wake up here. Where is my husband? Where is my baby?

We’ll get to that in a minute…do you remember anything else?

What day is it?

It is Sunday–

So this happened to me yesterday…?

No, it is 8 days later, you’ve been in a coma.

She’s been shot in the back, and the bullet passed through her chest. Her reality is simple – she’s lost her family, been shot, and she learns all this 8 days after it happened.

From there, as you can easily imagine, things barely progress at all when it comes to solving her case. Which probably means we need more characters. We’ll meet the sister of Dr. Alice. The girls used to be close, but now the younger sister has a serious drug addiction and has fallen in with the wrong crowd,

We’ll meet Alice’s in-laws, or said another way, her dead husband’s parents, the Delaunays. They are filthy rich and live in castle or chateau if you prefer. Their moral compass is a bit off.

Then there’s the cops. Hippolyte Giradot plays Detective Cyril Tessier. He’s kind of a pompous ass. His partner, who is way more effective than you might think is called Detective Florence Romano. She’s played by Charlotte Des George, and she’s rather pleasant to watch.

There’s the old boy friend who comes out of the shadows after 15 years. His name is Richard Millot and he’s played by French Actor Pascal Elbé.  He’s a part-time cop, a liar, and a thief. He will have you wondering if he’s the good guy who has ridden into town to save the good Doctor and help find the killer and the missing baby. Or if he’s something else.

Another guy we have to watch is Dr Alice’s neighbor and lawyer.  He’s called Louis Barthel (played by Lionel Abelanski). He;s a successful criminal defense lawyer, and the police detest him. We might call him the ‘good’ lawyer in this series, if for no other reason than to separate him from the ‘bad’ lawyer.

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Copenhagen Cops – The Department Q Trilogy

So over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I think we had just one day when the Mouth that Roared (DJT) was thankfully silent. Taking advantage of that fact, I concentrated my efforts at watching a scruffy detective out of Copenhagen, Denmark, and his partner, solve three cases.

The series which I watched on the Netflix streaming service, is actually three two-hour films. Collectively the series is called Department Q – Trilogy. But the reality is that these films were produced in 2013, 2014, and the most recent in 2016.

The first is called The Keeper of Lost Causes (in Danish Kvinden i buret). Detective Carl Mørk is just back from an extended leave. He had been recuperating from something. Mørk is a smart, even a brilliant cop, but not one given to either following orders, or being a team player. His vices include being a heavy smoker and a drinker. He’s unkempt, and that’s being generous or kind.

He doesn’t shave (or likely bathe) very often and to say that the complete package of Homicide Detective Carl Mørk is distinctly an unpleasant person seems more than apt.

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Anyway, he and his partner are on a stake out when they determine that their suspect is in the building in front of them. They are ordered to hold their positions and wait for back-up to arrive. But Mørk, played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, isn’t about to sit there waiting. Against the orders issued and his partner’s reservations, they enter the building.

Shots are fired, and the partner is shot resulting in a serious wound. He lives but he may never walk again.

Mørk’s superiors are not happy. Not only did Mørk disobey direct orders, but now, no one is willing to work with him. So he’s removed from the Homicide Division. They demote him down to Department Q, a previously non-existent department. His task is to go through twenty years of  unsolved cold cases. In short, he’s been sent to the ‘Siberia’ of police posts anywhere in the world. Cold cases barely registers above evidence locker in most police departments. Solving the cases is not what the brass wanted. They wanted Mørk and company to simply clear the cases. The task is to close three cases a week with a written report.  In short make no waves.

Mørk is assigned a partner, a detective named Assad, played by Fares Fares, who you may have seen in Safe House, Zero Dark Thirty, and will soon be seen in the upcoming Star Wars film – Rogue One. While Mørk considers that he has been both demoted and tossed aside, Assad sees it as a promotion because he had been stamping paperwork at the train depot. Assad is a Muslim and has no personal life to speak of. He eats at the same diner every day of the week.

So to finish the set up – The Keeper of Lost Causes is about a politician who disappeared after boarding a ferry. They, the detectives who handled the original investigation have called it a suicide. But Mørk is not convinced. Check out the trailer for The Keeper of Lost Causes:

The second film is called The Absent One (in Danish – Fasandræberne). This one is about some murders in an exclusive and expensive private school. The belief is that a certain student witnessed a pair of murders of some students at this school. There’s another school of thought that this ‘witness’ also took part in these killings. By the way, this female student apparently has been missing since 1994. Seems like another lost cause doesn’t it?

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Fleabag

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You wouldn’t think that an actress, who not only wrote a play, then adapted it into a TV series, all while starring as the lead character, would not only title the play/series Fleabag, but would also give the lead character that name too. You wouldn’t think it would happen.

Only if your name is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, that’s exactly what you did. This six part series called [ta-daa] Fleabag (a half-hour  a pop for each of the episodes) opened (began streaming) on Friday the 16th as an Amazon Original Series. Well, you’ll have to forgive Amazon for their marketing strategies as this series has already aired in the UK on BBC 3. But if you are an Amazon Prime member you can watch all six episodes at no additional cost.

So what’s it all about Alfie is probably not the question forming on your lips, but that was no accident. One of the keys to this funny series is that Fleabag has a decided penchant for breaking the 4th wall and talking directly to we viewers about the imminent and ongoing situation she’s in. Michael Caine did this in 1966 in the hit film Alfie.

Then we enjoyed it in the 1990 British TV series House of Cards with Ian Richardson playing the ambitious and corrupt Francis Urquhart.

In 2004 Alfie was remade with Jude Law playing Alfie. The story was re-positioned to be a New York story instead of London.

The British H of C was remade into a US TV series called House of Cards. Netflix began streaming the series in February of 2013. The fifth season will be available on February 24th, 2017. Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a poor guy from the back woods of South Carolina who was as corrupt as Mr. Urquhart, who eventually became the British PM. Underwood’s reach would eventually take him into the US Congress, and then ultimately, straight into the White House as President.

While Fleabag may be as morally corrupt as any of the gentlemen we just named, she was far less ambitious. When we first meet her she’s prepping for a 2:00 AM Tuesday Night pop-in.

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The Tunnel – Season One

Did you see the Danish/Swedish TV Series called The Bridge? The series had three seasons that aired in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Depending on where you live and what language you speak, the series is also known as Bron or Broen. The stars were Kim Bodnia as the Copenhagen, Denmark homicide detective Martin Rohde, and Sofia Helin as the Malmo, Sweden homicide detective Saga Noren.

Here’s the short and concise description of the series from Hulu:

A woman is found murdered in the middle of the Øresund Bridge – right on the border between Sweden and Denmark. The Swedish and Danish police are called to the scene. What at first looks like one murder, turns out to be two. The bodies have been brutally cut in half at the waist and put together to form a single corpse. This spectacular double murder is just the beginning of a wave of violence the like of which no one has ever seen before. The Swedish and Danish police find themselves in a race against the clock in a deadly showdown with a superior enemy, where no one will be the same when it’s over.

The series prove to be very popular and was deemed a success. So much so, that in the US, in 2013, a similar series, also called The Bridge was launched. This series ran for two seasons on the FX Channel.

The American series starred Demian Bicher as the Mexican cop Marco Ruiz from Juarez, and Diane Kruger as Sonya Cross who is based in El Paso, Texas.

Here’s the description of the US version of The Bridge from Wikipedia:

The Bridge follows two police detectives – one Mexican, one from the U.S. – and their joint effort to capture a serial killer who is operating in both countries when an American judge known for anti-immigration views is found dead on the bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, with Juárez, Mexico, menacing both nations along the Texas–Chihuahua border .

In both of these series, the hook, or the element that immediately captures the attention of the viewers was this – in each case there were two victims – the top half of the body was a victim from one side of the bridge, and the lower half of the victim was from the other country. Hence the joint jurisdiction.

Then, in a joint venture between the UK’s Skybridge Productions and the French production outfit called Canal +, we have the series called The Tunnel. This series has the same premise, only rather than discovering the body on a bridge, the two body sections are found at the midpoint of a service tunnel connecting Folkestone in the UK with Calais in France.

This channel crossing, under the sea (Straits of Dover) is for cars who drive on and then drive off the train. It is a mere 35 minute trip, so our detectives make this crossing routinely and easily. Speaking of the detectives, let’s check them out.

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