Trapped (2015) – TV Thriller from Iceland

So you’re in the process of hauling up the fishing nets from the water. You’ve snagged something big, but it doesn’t look like a large fish. Rather, it is a human torso – headless and limbless. It hasn’t been in the water all that long. There would have been more damage to this ‘corpse’ after an extended period in the sea.

So begins the TV series Trapped which is set in Iceland. Now that’s something you don’t see all that often in your TV listings or in the offerings from Amazon and Netflix. Created and directed by Baltasar Kormakur who had been at the helm of the thriller 2 Guns which starred Denzel Washington and Mark Walhlberg, this is the story of the police desperately trying to solve the crime as a severe snow storm arrives.

The storm effectively traps the murderer within the town as well as keeping the police forensics professionals from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, from reaching the town.

Seyðisfjörður, Iceland is a small town (population is 700) on the northeast side of Iceland and serves as the arrival port for the ferry (above and below) from Denmark. The town and ferry terminal are not directly on the ocean. As you can see in the above image, the ferry must make its way up the fjord to reach the town.

The voyage takes 52 hours. This time, because of the headless and limbless corpse, the Chief of Police denies the passengers and the crew the ability to leave the ship. He wants to cross the passenger manifest and listed crew against the Interpol databases.

When the chief asks the Ferry Captain for permission to search the ship – the Captain refuses.

Do you have something to hide? asks the cop.

The Captain is forced to relent but only after requiring the cop to secure written authorization the authorities in Denmark. The body may have been found in the Iceland fjord, but the ship is registered as a Danish vessel.

That’s just the first hurdle that needed a resolution in this compelling and gripping saga of 10 episodes.

This little town has a police force of just three. The Chief called Anri and is played by Olafur Darri Olafssson. He was born in Connecticut but has lived most of his life in Iceland

If this huge dude looks a tad familiar, you may remember him from Season 1 of True Detective, or as the drunk helicopter pilot in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  In this series you will find yourself rooting for him. He’s not your standard leading man type, and in this series, he’s got some personalissues to deal with.

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Berlin Station

I just finished watching the first season of the TV Series Berlin Station. Aired on tv by the premium Epix Channel, this is the channel’s first venture into an original scripted drama (aka – original content) but, the series may not be available to you. In fact, I could not see Berlin Station on my Xfinity Cable as this service doesn’t carry the channel. However, I was able to buy the DVD from Amazon.

The series is set in present day Berlin. And the reference is not about the Berlin’s U-Bahn transit system. Rather it about the USA’s CIA station in Berlin.

The series, and each episode opens with the following song playing over the opening credits:

I’m afraid of Americans
I’m afraid of the world
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t…

That was a David Bowie song called I’m Afraid of Americans circa 1997. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hMr9irtbIQ

As the series begins we learn that a whistleblower has been handing info to a Berlin newspaper reporter. Of course it is not as simple as just that, The whistle-blower, named Thomas Shaw, used an intermediary or courier, and they utilized a system of dead drops enabling the info to get from Thomas Shaw to the reporter. It was all very Snowden-ish and wiki-leak-ish. Just the sort of stuff you’d expect as the broad strokes of an espionage series.

A CIA analyst based in Langley, one Daniel Miller, is transferred to Berlin Station, and he’s tasked to discover, or uncover, and then hopefully shutdown this Shaw. All without any one working in the Berlin Station being aware of what he was doing.

Naturally what Shaw is doing is ‘outing’ CIA operatives and CIA operations emanating from the Berlin Station. These reveals were undoubtedly very embarrassing to the CIA as well as the German intelligence service.

So what do we learn?

Black ops and covert ops, dead drops, renditions, enhanced interrogations were among the topics. As was a specific black site in Morocco where the CIA did what they did to get what they needed. It was said that “if they weren’t guilty when they got here, they’d certainly be guilty by the time they got to Gitmo.”

All in all, the espionage business wasn’t all that pretty. And if you perchance were contemplating work in the State Department or any of the Intelligence services, you might want to reconsider. But that’s not a)news or b) part of the review. It is a story for another time and place

So about Berlin Station, going in, the series looked like it might be worthwhile and if done right, could be excellent. To prove that statement have a look at the trailer:

Only Berlin Station didn’t quite reach the heights I expected. Oh there was plenty that was good about the series beginning with on-location shoots, a terrific premise, and a stellar cast. Too bad the series in total fell short.

First – the opening two 1 hour episodes were dull, and with the size of the huge cast (meaning the many pivotal roles) it took a long time for the character introductions and the various plot lines to be set in motion. In short, as viewers, we were asked to take in lot of information and characters, and we were literally at sea without enough knowledge to truly understand what we were watching.

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Call My Agent – Season 2

Talent agencies are not the usual subject of a TV series. Now once upon a time, we had a fabulously successful series set in an ad agency. They called it Mad Men. It ran for 7 seasons and won a boatload of Awards, including statuettes from the Golden Globes and the outfit that hands out the Prime time Emmy awards.

On a smaller scale, and from a different country, I’ve just finished watching Season 2 of the French TV Series Dix Pour Cent, or as it is known on American shores – Call My Agent. For sure, Call My Agent is not Mad Men… but it relates to the former because it is much closer to being a mad house.

I think.

Season Two is basically a continuation from Season 1 which I reviewed here.  The widow of Samuel Kerr, the agency founder and majority stockholder, has informed the staff that she has no interest in running the boutique talent agency, and has decided to sell.

The new buyer/owner, Hicham Jankowski, is a risk for the 4 agents and the rest of the staff. The new buyer/owner might sell the agency off to a bigger firm, or he might make some changes, or worse = he’d be hands-on and he would intrude on the day to doings of one and all.

Instead – he gave each of the 4 agents (aka minority stockholders), a healthy 15,000 bonus. And that was because they negotiated firmly and never gave his original offer of 10,000 a chance.

That put a smile on all their faces. But no doubt they might have gotten even more had they been more greedy.

Martel was especially happy. She knew Jankowski from way back – before she became a Parisienne. For her, going back to her roots was a nonstarter, Her life style continues in Season 2. That would consist of picking up girls in bars, that is until she finds the one who would truly become The One. That is when she wasn’t courting clients, or dealing with film makers and film stars.

Gabriel Sarda (above) had his romance with the agency receptionist Sofia (below) go into uncharted waters as she, being an actress/singer, was also his client. People were talking, okay – whispering – that she was bartering sex for career advancement. Not true – but that didn’t stop all the whispers.

Mathias was also involved in the contretemps as it will become known about his relationship with the office ingenue who is –

Camille, and she’s played winsomely by Fanny Sidney. No, it’s not what you are thinking.  This was something we can slip into the niche called family. Mathias also has issues with his ex-wife.

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The Brave – New TV Series from NBC

Just checked my blog activity.  I posted a review of The Lava Fields on May 25th, then nothing until a pair of posts in September. Beyond that lots of ‘spam comments’ arrived needing deletion.  Nothing else happened.

Well I’m back. The hiatus or should I say the period of  a near complete lack of inspiration, which was really a nicer way of saying that I was unmotivated – has ended.

We’ll begin with a look at a new series on NBC – The Brave. NBC describes its series … this heroic Special Ops squad of highly trained undercover specialists use their unbreakable bond and commitment to freedom to save lives of innocent people and execute missions in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

From where I sit, The Brave is a new and exciting reworking of the old Mission Impossible TV series – only without any latex masks. Tom Cruise has a solid grip on the MI film franchise with MI6 currently filming – with a release scheduled in 2018. Until then, you action junkies can give this series a shot.

Seven episodes have already aired with the most recent one on Monday the 6th of November. What we basically have is a Special Ops team that normally, at least at the beginning of each episode, is based in Turkey. They live in a large warehouse (or maybe a quonset). There’s 4 guys and one girl. They have their own version of a Batphone (a video sat phone for the all important face time), and when it chimes – it generally means they have a mission to do.

The calls come (not from an unnamed Secretary) but from HQ here known as The Defense Intelligence Agency (which is an actual Washington DC based agency serving the military and founded by Robert McNamara in 1961).

Their boss is Deputy Director Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche has the role) who will not only lay it out for the team on the phone, but will also oversee the operations via the team’s body-cams. They all have a micro-earpiece and mike) so they can all hear from each other. Sometimes the boss will even put her own boots on the ground with her team.

She’s tough, knows all about working in the field, and is a no-nonsense kind of chief who has the skills needed for such dangerous work. If you’re looking for a comparable for Heche’s role – think Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky from 2015. Oh yes, as character Campbell, she’s also a mother of a son who was KIA in Afghanistan.

Accompanying her in the photo above is her Squad leader Adam Dalton played by Mike Vogel. Captain Dalton is the leader, the comm director and a former member of Delta force. His team calls him ‘Top’ and he makes the tactical decisions when they are in the field.

In the seven episodes I’ve seen, the field has been in Karatas, Turkey, Afghanistan, Paris, Nigeria, Seville, Mexico, and the Ukraine. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? But the reality is a little different. The Afghan  scenes were shot in Morocco. As for the rest – we get some obligatory cityscapes or establishing exteriors of an unnamed Ukrainian city, ditto Seville and Paris – but all of the action and indoor scenes are actually shot in or near a studio in New Mexico, right here in the USA.

Not a real deal-breaker bust still…

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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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Big Little Lies: Episode 3 – Living the Dream

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) – Beautiful, rich, and madly in love…something’s got be wrong…

Madeline  (Reese Witherspoon) – Her preferred state is agitated….

Renata (Laura Dern) – The wounds you get as a child can last forever…

Jane (Shailene Woodley) – That kid, he’s gonna have a good life…

Of these four women, it is more than a solid bet, it is a lock – that one of them is going to end up badly battered and dead. It is also a solid bet that one these women is the murderer.

Now that is not a spoiler. You see, this post is about the HBO Series Big Little Lies which aired its third episode this past Sunday night. In the opening of the very first episode, and the very first scene in that episode we saw and heard police detectives talking about a murder, and the murder victim.

Now fully three episodes in, we still haven’t a clue about the identity of the victim or the killer. Welcome to Monterrey California in the heart of the Big Sur country.

I guess the first time I saw the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California was when actor Michael Parks drove across the bridge on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the TV series Then Came Bronson. The show ran for all of 27 episodes in 1969 which is nearly a lifetime ago.

The next time I saw this bridge was in the late 70’s. Driving up from LA to San Francisco, the bridge was even better driving across it in person than I had remembered when Bronson did it.

Of course we stopped at the famous Big Sur restaurant called Nepenthe. It was the thing to do then, and the restaurant is still going strong today.

Then, on Sunday, I got 4 separate views of the bridge. I was watching Big Little Lies, which is both a wonderfully written and produced show, yet is also aggravating. Per HBO’s own description, here is the set-up:

Told through the eyes of three mothers – Madeline, Celeste and Jane – Big Little Lies paints a picture of a town fueled by rumors and divided into the haves and have-nots, exposing the conflicts, secrets and betrayals that compromise relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbors.

Which is fine by me – but what makes the show maddening is the framing device of the murder. Now remember, as I said before, we are now three full episodes in. We don’t know who became the victim and we don’t know who the perpetrator of this murder is.

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