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

 

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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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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Four Seasons in Havana

Detective Conde: I’m too fucking nostalgic…
Karina: How decadent…
Detective Conde: Decadence is what fucked up Havana

That’s a bit of the dialogue from Episode 1 f the 4 part series that Netflix has introduced to us just a few weeks ago. The series is called Four Seasons in Havana, and the star, as Detective Conde is Jose Perugoria.

The basics are straightforward. Homicides happen and homicides need to be solved.

The title of the first episode is The Winds Of Lent. The skinny is this: There’s been a brutal murder of a young high school teacher. Conde is on the case and as he works through it, he becomes aware that this teacher taught at the very high school that Conde went to.

As the story expands, we are going to discover the involvement of a drug dealer, some possible police corruption, how important is loyalty, the truth does matter, and that our lead detective falls in love far too quickly.

The series begins this way: It is night-time in Havana but more like in the last few hours before sunrise. There’s some smoke and it seems to becoming from a few separate block. A fire? Not at all. This is just a fumigation truck spraying something into the atmosphere.

But that can only hold your interest for just so long. We need something else. How about this?

 

A woman and a car. Who is she? We have no idea.

A man enters the scene. He asks if she needs some help with the car which has a left front tire that needs to be changed. We have no idea who he is either. But we will come to learn that he is Lieutenant Conde, a homicide cop.

Later, or is it the next day – the homicide dicks get a call about a murder. Conde goes there as does the forensics officer. There are some available clues – Marijuana in the ash tray, a packet of four tabs of methamphetamine under the bed. Attempts were made to wipe away finger prints. The woman was beaten, raped, and then choked to death.

And there was more, Semen was found in the vagina and a used condom was found in the bathroom. The forensic analysis reports that the semen samples came from two different men.

Conde tries to gain some information or insights to the case so he goes to the high school to ask some questions. None of the students will talk to him – as Conde is a cop.

So it looks like Conde has run into a stone wall. The higher-ups down at Police HQ want results and fast.

Conde will seek some help from an old friend of his from the neighborhood. A guy named Red. Conde asks him to get him some intel.

Red: Asking questions will get me killed
Conde: You don’t have to ask, just keep your eyes open…

The series is set in Havana in the 1990’s. This was the period that was the most difficult for Cuba. The economic sanctions as well as the isolated status of Cuba made living conditions difficult. People lacked so much that their main passions were limited to food, music, and sex.

This Havana, though filled with color and ambience is kind of a bleak place. Detective Conde and his brother and a few other friends all remember the Revolution and the bright promises made by Castro and company. Now they are in their late forties and their disappointment with the Cuba they live  in, rather than the Cuba they had hoped for, is not only apparent, but is more than a feeling. It imbues every aspect of life.

Conde’s brother was wounded in the war in Angola and no longer has the use of legs which is of course a difficult reminder of the Cuba that had failed at that time.

Any way, I’d rather not give away too much of either the first episode of the three that follow. This mini-series has been billed as the first Caribbean Noir. Directed by Felix Viscarret, and adapted from the novels penned by Leonardo Padura, the series oozes atmosphere, color, and vivid characters.

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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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