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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HBO’s Wizard of Lies

HBO aired a brand new entry from its film division a few days ago which was Saturday May 20th. They called it Wizard of Lies, and the lead was Robert De Niro as the infamous Bernie Madoff. Michelle Pfeiffer c0-starred as Ruth Madoff.

Most of us remember Mr. Madoff’s fall from grace. And that’s being kind. Madoff was the kingpin in the biggest Ponzi scheme in recorded history. His Asset Management firm gobbled up literally billions of US dollars ($64.8 Billion to be accurate), and in return gave their clients fake statements as documentation of the fake trades.

Madoff took their investment dollars and deposited them into his account at Chase Bank. When a client requested a withdrawal, Madoff paid them out of the money in the Chase account. In a sense this was a never-ending ‘take money from Peter to pay Paul’ scheme with an infinite number of replications.

In Madoff’s own words – It’s a fraud. Basically a big Ponzi scheme. There were no trades, no investments. I made it all up.

Madoff is now known as Prisoner 61727-54 serving out a 150 year sentence in a medium security federal prison in Butner, N.C. which is outside of Raleigh, NC.

The film opens with Madoff being interviewed in this prison by a NY Times reporter – Diana Henriques – who would go on to write a non-fiction book about Madoff and his exploits. Henriques appeared in the film as herself.

Basically this interview established the framework of the film. Our perspective was the interview and then a flashback to the day before Madoff was arrested by the FBI and taken out of his swank Manhattan penthouse in handcuffs.  They didn’t show us the ‘perp walk’ but we didn’t need to see it.

From there we see the interview continued as well as the flashbacks. Basically we never saw the day-to-day operations or said a different way – the nuts and bolts of how this huge scam was perpetrated.

How do you now plead?

We also didn’t see much of the victims who lost millions to Madoff. It wasn’t until the sentencing phase of Madoff’s trial that we saw the victims –

He discarded me like I was road-kill…

He took our entire life savings…

So mostly this was a family drama. De Niro’s Madoff was all internalized struggles. Madoff had this terrible secret which he had to keep from his family and closest friends. There was a line that Madoff said to the reporter – For 16 years I kept this secret from my wife, my sons. How I was able to do that and maintain any degree of sanity…

The film was kind of a Grand Guignol of greed. One might understand how a Madoff might temporarily sink to the depths of this kind of behavior. Oh he did say that he intended to make things right – but he never did. The deception rolled unchecked and unabated for years. Of course there were accomplices – back office types that created the make-believe statements and trade confirms.

Bernie had his penthouse apartment in Manhattan, a swanky beachfront estate in Montauk Pt, NY, an elegant home in the south of France, cars, yachts, jewelry – he even had enough watches to wear a different one each day of the month.

And yet – the film manages to evoke sympathy from the viewer. Not for Bernie, of course – but for Ruth Madoff, and the two sons Andrew and Mark – one of whom committed suicide by hanging himself, and the other died of lymphoma cancer.

That’s Nathan Darrow on the left as Andrew Madoff. Darrow played Edward Meechum for a few seasons on House of Cards. Alessandro Nivona is on the right as Mark Madoff

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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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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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