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 , and more often than not, Sorjonen is seen holding his head in his hands, as if in deep pain. The reality is that he’s in another place mentally, and this is just a part of his focusing or concentration techniques. Personally, I thought it was more of an actor’s gambit, and 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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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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The Good Fight

Just asking…

Did you catch the new series called The Good Fight from Robert and Michelle King who were creators and show runners for the award-winning and money-making CBS-TV series The Good Wife?

The pilot and series premiered on CBS last Sunday. The rest of the series will be exclusive and stream only on CBS All Access. In truth, on our calendars, the series begins takes place 9 months after The Good Wife finale (which aired on May 8th 2016), but one year later in story-time.

So a number of the characters who were important over the last few seasons of The Good Wife are now, or at least in Episode 1, in The Good Fight,

or at least in the series opener. Like Zach Grenier as David Lee, and Jerry Adler as Howard Lyman. Cush Jumbo is also on hand but at another firm.

Sarah Steele, who joined The Good Wife, a few seasons in as Marissa Gold (Eli Gold’s daughter) was not is this first episode of TGF, but she is listed for 9 episodes which would make her be a regular in the cast.

Also on hand is Gary Cole who played Kurt McVeigh, a ballistic expert who became Diane Lockhart’s husband in Season 7 of the TGW.

There’s even a photo of the dear and departed Will Gardner. But there’s no sign of Alicia Florrick.

Yes, CBS All Access is a subscription service like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. At the moment they are offering two versions – the Limited Commercials version that will run you $5.99 a month, and the Commercial Free service which will hit you up at $9.99 a month. The good news is that this service will allow you watch The Good Fight and many other CBS offerings at anytime, anywhere, and on any device. The bad news is that you have to pay CBS for this series. They do offer a free one week trial, in case you’d like to check it out before parting with any cash.

The series is headed up with Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart. As the pilot begins, Diane is about to a) retire and b) buy a villa somewhere in the Provence region of France, but not before her last case concludes. She’s representing the City of Chicago and the Chicago PD in a suit for a brutality at the hands of the police. Lockhart hopes to go out with a win.

Until then, Diane had been a name partner in a law conglomerate that had so many name partners in the firm name – that I don’t have the time to give you that information. Anyway, it doesn’t matter as she has signed off on her retirement documents and is all but out the door.

At the moment she is the recipient and guest of honor at her retirement farewell party. Which included on the guest list is Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn, and Bernadette Peters and Paul Guilfoyle as the married couple – Lenore and Henry Lindell.

But it is at this party that Diane has her defining moment, It is all downhill from there. You see, Diane will soon find out that she’s been ‘Rindelled’. Or maybe I should say that the Rindells ran an ‘ investments by invitation only’ Ponzi scheme that left Diane, and some of her friends, some of her colleagues, and even some of her clients, in the same boat as those who were victimized by Bernie Madoff.

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Showtime’s Billions – Season Two Episode One – Recap & Review

Mission Control over at Showtime launched Season 2 of Billions back on the 10th of February with an Online and On Demand preview ahead of last night’s, the 19th, broadcast. The episode commences late at night at the deserted Yonkers Raceway, which was originally opened more than 100 years ago as the Empire City Casino. Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod is meeting with his attorney Orrin Bach (played by Glenn Fleshler) .

Basically this meeting is a way for Axe to describe how he became successful (he watched the parimutuel board and found that the biggest and best players bet late and bet heavy), a strategy that Axe used in the markets. We also got a clear indication of how he wants Bach to go after Rhoades with an armful of lawsuits. Then after but a few minutes we cut to a scene set three days earlier. Cue the music which begins and ends this episode (called Risk Management) , with Harry Nilsson’s Jump into the Fire.

If you are of a certain age, you may remember that song which was released by RCA Records all the way back in November 1971. From the lyrics –

You can climb a mountain, you can swim the sea
You can jump into the fire but you’ll never be free
You can shake me up or I can break you down…

Now imagine two cavemen (I’d have preferred to use ‘Neanderthals’ but the New York Times already has done so) garbed in bearskins, and armed with clubs going after each other. Alas, all we can do is imagine because back in those days, no one walked about with cell phones with built in cameras or had the ability to tweet about what they just watched. There was no media – which meant there wasn’t any fake media either. Now update that idea and replace the original ‘cavemen’ with a more modern pair  –

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti)  and Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), the Hedge Fund King, have become the warriors in our new visual image. They’re struggling for dominance as the supremo of a new kind of man cave – aka the financial world that serves as a virtual Ground Zero in the TV series Billions.

Aside from the differences in clothing of the two sets of combatants, what you will come away with is the thought that the two sets of images are conceptually the same picture. Or said in as few words as possible – same, same.

Last season, Rhoades was willing to go to any lengths to see Axe behind bars. And Axe with his billions of dollars was able withstand Rhoades and his billions of words that were gathered in the volumes of the Federal Law Codes or his blizzard of legal briefs. As you may recall,

Axe virtually tore down his office building up in Greenwich, or was it Stamford, searching for listening devices which proved to be a fruitless effort. So Axe never found the bugs, Rhoades never proved his case – and his suits against Axe were dropped. But not before –

at the Rhoades domicile, Chuck had committed the unpardonable sin of searching his wife’s computer looking for dirt on Axe.

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The Missing: Season 2 on Starz Network

I just finished the second season of The Missing which has aired on the Starz Network here in the USA. Season One was the tale of a small boy who went missing in a small French City. You can find my review of the first episode of The Missing here. 

Season Two brings back only the general theme (missing child) and the French Detective Julien Baptiste (played by Tcheky Karyo). Besides him we have a completely new story with different actors, characters, and settings.

As the second season begins, it is 2014. The girl in the poster above wanders into a town called Eckhausen, Germany. It is a smaller city hidden away in the Northern Rhine -Westphalian section of Germany – just 33 klicks from Dusseldorf. Upon reaching the center of town the girl collapses in the street.

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We will come to find out that she was in serious need of an appendectomy, and her name is Alice Webster (she’s played by Abigail Hardingham). She was abducted 11 years ago.

Her parents, Sam (David Morrissey) and Gemma Webster (Keeley Hawes) live in Eckhausen as Sam is in the military. He’s been posted to a UK base (likely a part of NATO) in the area. There’s also a younger brother Matthew.

One would think the re-appearance of a girl who went missing 11 years ago would be a good thing. But as the poster at the top of this review states: The Search Ends. The Mystery Begins.

Two years later, bringing us to the present day, French Detective Julien Baptiste arrives in Eckhausen. He is working on a different case involving another missing girl.

As the story plays out, we will find ourselves shuttling between France, the Kurdish section of Iraq, Germany, and even Switzerland. As well as the geographical dislocation, we are also in different years – 1991, 2008, 2014, as well as the present time.

I can state that the transfers (flashbacks and flash forwards) are often a tad confusing. They will give you a visual graphic to tell you where we are and a date reference, but it might be of value for you if you keep in mind the look of the three main characters – Sam is either free of visible and severe scarring on his face or not.

Gemma has longer hair or shorter hair.

And Baptiste still has his limp and most of the time is unshaven, but he is also almost fully bald in the present.

There’s another character, Eve Stone, (played by Laura Fraser) a military police officer, who is either pregnant or not. As I stated, it will require an effort on the part of the viewer.

The mystery of the missing girl takes its time to reveal some of the key particulars. There’s other stuff going on as well – a life threatening illness, an extra-marital affair, high tension action sequences in Iraq, and a pair of suicides.

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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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The Young Pope – New HBO Limited Series

HBO rolled out its new limited series The Young Pope on Sunday night (January 15th). Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the series opening episode is nothing if not shocking.

Sorrentino, as we saw in both The Great Beauty (2013) and Youth (2015), is a master of both the beautiful as well as the grotesque. His compositional skills have produced some of the most visually arresting and stunning scenes in both of the above named films. Be sure and confident that this will continue in this limited TV series.

To simplify the story we have Lenny Belardo (played by Jude Law) as the just elected new Pope, and the first ever American Pope and is about to be introduced to the world. Or as the Italian press and media must have gushed out again and again – Habemus Papam – which is Latin for We Have a Pope. This is usually uttered by the Cardinal Protodeacon, who is the most senior of the Cardinal Deacons. This is announced from the Central Balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, and what follows is the new Pope gives his Urbi et Orbi – To the City [of Rome] and to the World address.

While that may be how a new Pope is introduced to the world, along with the white smoke. it is not how the series begins. Rather we see Judy Law emerging from under a huge pile of sleeping babies. But it is only a dream.

Law, as Pius XIII, then proceeds to shower and dress (yes, there’s a back view quick shot of a nude Pope about to enter his shower). What follows is a long sequence of the Pope heading to the Central Balcony. Think of Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas scene when Henry Hill and his date make their way through the underbelly of New York’s Copacabana Club. Only this time it is not a continuous or single tracking take. We have a number of cuts to the reactions of the Cardinals, and Monsignors, and other Vatican staff, as well as the faces of many in the huge throng below in St. Peter’s Square who blissfully await their first view of the new Pope.

To be certain as well as specific,  it was splendidly shot and edited.

Sorrentino still has more than a few cards left to play. The day of the new Pope’s introduction is  in the midst of a rain shower. We see literally thousands of umbrellas in the huge crowd. Before saying even a single word, Lenny opens his arms wide and leans back gazing to the heavens – and, as if on cue, the rains stop.

He then launches his Urbi et Orbi speech, and for a while it sounds like the standard Pope speak (aside from the English). But then midway, Sorrentino turns the speech inside out, and instead of papal good wishes and niceties, we get the complete opposite.

This Pope is winging it, and making it up as he goes. He has no intention of following the rules or traditions. He’s like no other Pope of all that came before him.

He’s a conservative and he is going to bring the Church into line with what he wants rather than the way it has always been. He will later say, And this is only the beginning.

He has a one on one conference with Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando above) who is in charge of Finances, Politics, and almost everything that isn’t theological. When he tells the new Pope that he is basically going to run the business and political side of the Church, the new Pope demurs and announces that his Senior Advisor will be Sister Mary, who rescued the young Lenny from an orphanage in California when he was just a boy. Diane Keaton has the role.

Humbled and despondent, Cardinal Voiello has been placed in a position of having to slink away. Lenny has already pressed the secret and silent buzzer beneath the desk that will summon a nun who will spin a lie (example – your 2:30 appointment is waiting in the anteroom).  How obliterating for this Cardinal to be dismissed so easily, and this is only their first meeting.

This new Pope is going shake things up, change the rules as he sees fit, and he could not care less about traditions of being nice to the staff. There was a terrific scene when Cardinal Voiello attempts to challenge the new Pope.

Voiello: Pardon me Holy Father, but you may not smoke in this room.

Belardo: Who made that rule?

Voielle: Your predecessor…

Belardo: Well, there’s a new Pope in town.

That’s our boy Lenny Belardo. He’s not concerned about being nice to anyone for any reason. He doesn’t tweet – he says it right to someone’s face. He doesn’t say it, but you can see the similarities between this Pope and the new President Elect.

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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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