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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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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Bordertown – New Netflix Series

This is a series about one of the most respected detectives in the country. When his wife has been released from the hospital after barely surviving brain cancer, he decides to take his family to a small town near the border. To move far from the grind of the big city, and to live, while still working as a police homicide detective, he hoped would lead to a quieter and peaceful life. But life is not very peaceful on this particular border. Murders, rapes, kidnappings, prostitution, drug trafficking and dog fighting are among the crimes that this detectives will find after leaving the big city.

And you thought living at a distance from a large urban setting would lead to a quiet and peaceful existence, with crime appearing once in a while, as opposed to continuously.

As far as a border town, were you thinking of El Paso, Texas and its Mexican counterpart across the river known as Juarez? Or maybe you thought of the border town with a triple frontier. That would be Ciudad del Este which sits at the confluence of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentine. Both would be good guesses.

No, this Bordentown is called Lappeenranta. My guess is that you don’t really know where Lappeenranta is. Full disclosure – I didn’t know either and I’ve never been there. Lappeenranta is a two and half hours train ride heading Northeast out of Helsinki, which means we will watch this series which mostly shot in Finland.

It isn’t all in Finland as Lappenranta is about three hours by a combo of bus and train traveling Southeast to the Venice of the North, which as we all know, is St. Petersburg, Russia. In this part of the world, Finland and Russia share a land border – hence this series, airing on Netflix is called Bordertown.

Our lead detective is called Kari Sorjonen. The actor who is that role is Ville Virtanen. He’s in his mid 50’s and here he’s been tasked with the portrayal of Sorjonen, a man who is both driven, intense, quirky, and brilliant. This brilliance often gets him in trouble with his boss Taina who is this head of this special investigative unit. which is a new department and is currently operating on a trial basis. You know why don’t you? It’s the same all over – they call it funding.

Taina is charged with both solving the cases which are in the hands of her staff of detectives as well as controlling expenses.

As part of moving out of Helsinki for a less hectic home in the country, Sorjonen has promised to not bring his work home with him. But crime doesn’t punch a clock which means our detectives get far less down time then they’d hoped for. Sorjonen’s wife (above) has to constantly urge him to answer his phone.

His daughter (above) has to adjust to a new home in a town she doesn’t know. And as we were once teenagers ourselves, we know that this isn’t always easy.

Detective Sorjonen has his own adjustments to make. His case solving techniques or methods are a bit strange with Sorjonen is seen holding his head in his hands, as if in deep pain. The reality is that he’s in another place mentally. This is just a part of his focusing or concentration techniques. I thought it was more of an actor’s gambit, so I didn’t buy into it.

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Man From Reno

As the 2014 film, Man from Reno, begins we get a gray screen. Then we hear some sounds like the ocean waves, a train whistle, then a sound which turns out to be the windshield wipers of a moving car, and is the first real visual that we get. This car is driving in the midst of a ‘thick as pea soup fog’ – meaning visibility is less than poor, or verging on dangerous. Who is driving and where is the car is info we don’t have yet.

Eventually the camera shows us the driver. We can see he is an older man, and we can also tell that this is truly not a night to be out on this particular stretch of road. The car radio is on and we hear the terms Bay Area, the peninsula, and the fact that the fictional San Marco County is getting the worst of the bad weather.

Which was really confirmed when our driver almost hits an abandoned car that is sitting on the road rather than pulled off to the side. No sign of life or anything else, and this is why our driver reaches for his police radio, He’s going to report the missing vehicle as he is a Sheriff. Pepe Serna has the role of the Sheriff.

Moments later while still on the road, the Sheriff’s car hits a man. The car was proceeding quite slowly, and the impact wasn’t too severe, as shortly thereafter the man who was hit by the car is up on his feet and tries to run away. He doesn’t get very far as the Sheriff spots him collapsed in the road.

Cut to the hospital where a doctor is describing the man’s injuries to the Sheriff. Some cuts, a concussion, and a few bruises – but he will be alright. The Sheriff wants to talk to the injured man but the doctor says the man is asleep. By the next morning, the man has checked himself out of the hospital

Roll credits.

We next get a helicopter view as it comes off the bay and flies over the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal in San Francisco. Cut to a woman in a car. She flashes back to a recent book tour in Japan that she was a part of . She’s a writer of mystery novels. Her name is Aki Akahori (she’s played by Ayako Fujitani) and she will fancy herself as something like the lead character in her books – a sleuth called Inspector Takabe. But pressures (not described) caused her to abandon the book tour. She winds up in SF for R & R and some downtime.  The cab takes her to a hotel.

The next we see of her she’s at a family gathering of old friends in SF. While Aki does some cool things about another guest at this party – like acting as if she was deducing he went to Stanford, and he has an Ivy League manner to him. But we don’t get a lot of info other than the fact that these folks know each from past years. The male guest is kind of outsider but serves as the foil for ‘detective’ Aki.

At this point, several story lines have just begun; and there’s another that hasn’t been started yet. Lets lift up one corner of the canvas and take a peak at what is ahead – and we’ll start with Sheriff Paul Del Moral. That’s him with one of his junior officers. She’s actually his daughter and a) she has a lot to learn, and b) she wants to learn pronto. Sheriff Del Moral may not be at the center of the story – but if he’s not, then he’s only centimeters from the center

Eventually our writer/amateur detective is chatted up in the hotel lobby. By who? you must be thinking. I’ll just call him the Man from Reno to simplify matters. Because even if I mentioned his name, it would carry all the weight of a bit of gossamer. And that’s as far as I will take this introduction.

Man From Reno is a modern-day version of the mystery genre known as Noir. Director Dave Boyle kinds of presents us with a film that is part drama, part comedy, and part thriller. He has imported some items from Alfred Hitchcock’s trick bag – one of which is a priceless collection of living Indian flat-head turtles which serve as the MacGuffin or red herring.

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Hotel Beau Séjour – New Netflix Series

What do I know of Flanders?

We can start with the famous poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, written in May of 1915 during The Great War (1914-1918), or as it is called here in the USA – World War I. McRae was a Canadian military doctor and an artillery commander. One of McRae’s friends had just been killed by an exploding artillery shell near Ypres, in West Flanders, Belgium. As the chaplain was off base, McRae himself led the burial service. Following that he was inspired to author this poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

My knowledge of Flanders also includes some famous Flemish painters like Pieter Bruegel the Elder whose most famous work is called The Dutch Proverbs.

We can easily state that this depiction of life (circa 1559 is not exactly a walk in the park.

Then there was Jan van Eyck famed for his earthly realism combined with spiritual symbolism, and

Peter Paul Rubens who specialized in extravagant Baroque style works many of which are far too voluptuous and detailed to be adequately displayed on these pages..

Now those above are mainly just factoids. I have in fact traveled in Flanders which is a region in Northern Belgium, bordering with The Netherlands. I boarded the Thalys High Speed train in Amsterdam Centraal Station bound for Paris.

I stepped off the train at Paris Gare du Nord  in just over 3 hours after passing through Flanders and even stopping in Brussels.

But why I am really writing about Flanders? Just released on Netflix, a few days ago, is a new series set in Flanders. It is called Hotel Beau Séjour. The quick summary is this:

After finding her own bloody corpse in a hotel bath, Kato slowly realizes that she’s dead – yet a handful of people can still see and hear her.

Or said in a different way:

Caught in an afterlife limbo, Kato investigates her own mysterious death, and unravels a web of secrets in her seemingly tranquil village.

Okay, I’ve reviewed a number of Nordic noirs, and British mysteries, and series about French detectives – but I think this is the just the second series from Belgium that I’ve reviewed. The first was La Treve aka The Break reviewed here.

It is a bit strange, but not off-putting to have a new and an unusual perspective; that being the perspective of the victim. She’s a bit of a ghost in the literal sense of the word, but for those that can see her, it is as if she’s returned from a journey.

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Nobel – Norwegian TV Series on Netflix

When you think of things like the US State Department, the CIA, West Asia, the Middle East, and television; it seems likely that you might think I’m referencing the Showtime TV series Homeland. And you’d be right.

Now if I change it up a bit to a Western Europe nation, A Foreign Minister heading up something similar to our own State Department but called The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instead of a CIA let’s toss in a Military Special Forces unit (something similar to our own Army Rangers or Navy Seals, then specifically refer to Afghanistan, and put it on television – what might I be referring to?

The answer is Norwegian TV series that came out in 2016 called Nobel. This series is currently airing on the Netflix streaming service. The series stars Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie as Erling Riiser.  He’s a member of the Norwegian Special Forces and as the series opens, he and his men are stationed at a forward operations base somewhere in Afghanistan.

They are enjoying some downtime, so Erling makes a Skype call to his son who is at home in Oslo. Then they get an alert – intel suggests that there might be a suicide bomber who will enter the town square market the next day.

So the platoon heads for town to set up roof top surveillance with shot lines from all four sides of the square. And that’s your opening.

This is an exciting series and trust me it is not just about the military. For one thing, Erling’s wife Johanne works in the Foreign Ministry. She reports directly to the Foreign Minister.

Norway is trying to do an oil deal with a big land owner in Afghanistan who is called Sharif Zamani. But the Norwegian are facing stiff competition for the rights to the oil from the Chinese.

A friend of Johanne’s has begun a program in Afghanistan called Fruit for Life, but there’s a distinct possibility that this might be a front for contraband drugs operation.

Things get even more complicated when Erling, back in Oslo on a furlough, gets a telephone order which leads to an assassination. In truth this is a complicated political conspiracy thriller. The stakes ratchet up as we get deeper and deeper.

Eventually we are not just talking about Afghanistan. And we will also come to find that we are watching a story that is not just about Erling Riiser. Norway itself must worry about its own future.

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Riphagen: The Untouchable

 

This film, entitled Riphagen: The Untouchable is the story of one Andries Riphagen. As the film begins we met Dries, as he is called by some, accompanied by another man. They arrive at a home in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It is some time in 1944.

They ask the homeowners if they are hiding any Jews. When an older woman is discovered behind a false wall, Riphagen (played by Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) tells her can help her. She will have to turn over all her valuables in exchange for a safe passage out of Amsterdam. She says she has no valuables.

But Riphagen finds a packet of diamonds hidden in her hair. He promises to return all of her jewels and diamonds after the war. He will need to take about 10 of the diamonds to satisfy the Germans who think that he is indeed working for them.

He tells this woman and other Jews that he is working with the Dutch Resistance and he can get them safely out of Amsterdam.

So, we are faced with this question: Is Riphagen a hero, or is he a traitor to his fellow Dutch people. Said another way is Riphagen an Oscar Schindler or is he something else?

This film was originally a three-part tv mini-series. Netflix thought that these three parts could be merged and made into a film. So you can see it with a Netflix streaming account.

I watched this film for the premise seemed intriguing. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and loved the place; so seeing it again was an idea I couldn’t resist. Of course Amsterdam in 1944 would not be the same as the Amsterdam where I spent some time in 2015.

Obviously, the Amsterdam in the film is not the one I remember from a year and half ago. In fact I watched for about 45 minutes before seeing even a hint of a canal. Maybe that is because a good portion of the film was shot in the Dutch city Utrecht which has an older and more historical look to it whereas Amsterdam has a much more modern look. Having said that, I can state that the topic of the film is a familiar topic – The Holocaust – albeit this story is told from a different angle and from a different perspective.

I must say that Jeroen van Koningsbrugge about whom you might say appears in this film as a version of the 70″s and 80’s actor Telly Savalas in appearance, gives a more than credible performance as the anti-Schindler.

As for the rest of the cast, I knew none of them, but found most them excellent with one exception – the character of Wim Sanders as played by Michel Sluysmans.

The two-hour plus film has a good crisp look to it. There’s not a preponderance of night scenes, or rain-drenched, or foggy scenes either.

The costume designer has done a wonderful job in recreating both the men and women suits and dresses of the time.

Also for the record, the automobiles used gave the definite sense of Europe in the 40’s as we saw both German and French cars.

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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.

dix-pour-cent-dix-pour-cent-staffel-1-1

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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