February 24, 2019

Case Histories on Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime continues to carry many of the best British tv crime series. One such favorite is Case Histories based on the Jackson Brodie novel series by Kate Atkinson. I previously wrote a rave review on Atkinson’s novel Life After Life so she knows her way around writing plot, characterization and dialogue.

Brodie, played by ruggedly handsome Jason Isaacs, acts tough but is drawn to the down-trodden and those with unresolved personal tragedies. The premise may sound conventional, but the crime stories benefit from quirky characters and very high production values. Isaacs, with sidekick Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington), is the centerpiece of the show with his rough exterior and soft-hearted interior.

The show is set and filmed in Edinburgh, Scotland as an added benefit for those enamored with Scottish culture. Sadly, there are only nine episodes over two seasons.
Would that this series have gone on for a few more seasons. Still, you can add Case Histories to your list of worthy Amazon Prime Video crime mysteries.

The Iron Giant, an animated classic

I was nosing around for a movie that might appeal to family members of varied interests. The Iron Giant, a 1999 animated film hit the jackpot.

This was Brad Bird’s first directorial outing and was not deemed a financial success at the time. Thankfully, he continued working and has added movies like The Incredibles 1 and 2, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to his catalogue.

Due to DVD distribution and streaming, this almost 20-year-old animated work has arrived at cult status and rightfully so. The animation looks like it was done by a Japanese manga artist and a really quirky comic book illustrator. The voice-over actors include the late John Mahoney, Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal and Jennifer Anniston. Even Cloris Leachman has a bit role.

There are definitely two tracks to the production, one a basic “boy helps monster” plot line for kids, and an adult deeper examination of prejudice, fear of the Russians, secret government doings, guns and war. Brad Bird manages to entertain both age groups with wit, artistry and heart.

The Iron Giant deserves wider acclaim. This 1999 animated feature is currently streaming on Netflix.

Killing Eve from the BBC

Expecting to find yet another well-made police procedural in the BBC’s show, Killing Eve, I was surprised by the production’s fresh take on international crime, thanks, in no small part, to American actress, Sandra Oh playing MI5 agent Eve Polastri who becomes fascinated with a female contract killer running loose in Europe.

Based on the Luke Jennings novella series, Codename Villanelle, Jodie Comer deliciously plays the dangerous lady with a penchant for paid assassinations. Fiona Shaw is Polastri’s shadowy boss who has secrets of her own. As we are introduced to new characters, we ponder who are the good guys and gals?

Sandra Oh and Comer are the heart of the show as they take turns being prey and huntress to one another. As a bonus, we get to see Villanelle in haute couture amid shots in Paris, Tuscany, Berlin, Romania and London, rather like a great travel show with a a plot to boot.

For every gruesome murder image, we have equally droll scenes to appreciate. If you like witty script-writing, twisty plots and fine acting, look no further than Killing Eve. Here’s hoping that Sid Gentle Films, the production company, can keep up the perfect balance of tension and comedy in Season Two.

Killing Eve, Season One is currently streaming on Hulu.

Wild Wild Country doc on Netflix

Fasten your seat belts for Wild Wild Country, a six-part documentary about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, his deputy Ma Anand Sheela and the community they created in Wasco County, Oregon. I had to keep reminding myself that this saga was not fiction, but a true life story of the 1980s with the Bhagwan and his sannyasins or followers.

Wild Wild Country

The Rashneeshis were noted for wearing burgundy, red, and orange clothing, sitting enrapt in the presence of the Bhagwan and at other times bouncing around in physical abandonment. The conservative Oregonian locals felt fear and bewilderment at this group of seeming interlopers.

Brother film-makers Chapman and MacIain Way depict the mounting tension between the “cult” and the local and federal government. A fantastic scriptwriter could not have fabricated some of the surprising turns the story takes. I defy you not to become engrossed in this strange tale.

If you want an interesting follow-up to the series, you might consider reading the Vanity Fair magazine article that talks about where some of the principals are now and ponders some of the issues not resolved in the documentary.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/04/wild-wild-country-netflix-cult-documentary-interview-bhagwan-shree-rajneesh-antelope-oregon-sheela-rajneeshpuram

Coco, the movie on Netflix

I’m frequently behind in my movie viewing since I wait until films are released on streaming services. I recently caught Coco, an animated film produced by Pixar and released by Disney on Netflix. All I can say is, “Why did I not catch this masterpiece in the movie theater?!”

The art direction is simply stupendous with its riotous colors and images that evoke Hispanic Culture’s Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) came up with the story idea and co-directed the film with Adrian Molina. They get an A+ for allowing non-Latinos and Latinos alike to view Hispanic culture through the eyes of 12-year-old Miguel who is mistakenly sent to the underworld. He meets his musician great great-grandfather who helps him get back to the land of the living.

The music buff in me loves the song “Remember Me” which is artfully woven throughout the movie, but it is the central theme of family and remembrance that really hits the right chord for me.

Anthony Gonzalez is the young Miguel and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) plays his new pal who tricks him into visiting the world below. Most of the excellent voice-over actors are not household names, aside from Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel’s musical idol. Edward James Olmos is cast as the forgotten Chicharron who disappears from the Land of the Dead. Even Cheech Marin has a small role as a Corrections Officer.

If Coco shows up at a nostalgia movie theater, run at your earliest opportunity to catch it. Until then, view it on Netflix with those you love. Have your Kleenex at the ready. Happy Dia de los Muertos which starts on October 31st.

The Americans on Amazon Prime Video

Many moons ago, I wrote about the FX series The Americans after watching Season One. As I stated back then, the first few episodes did not grab me, but once the story took hold, I avidly watched all of the series episodes

Season Six, which just ended, is the final chapter in the saga of the Jennings family. Joe Weisberg, the creator of this based-on-fact series, depicts a fictional imbedded Russian couple living in the Virginia D. C. suburbs in the 1980s of the Reagan administration. The stakes become fever pitch when an FBI agent moves into the home across the street.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys masterfully play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. The all-American appearing husband and wife are actually Russian-born and have a penchant for disguises, different personas and violence. Every episode lets them demonstrate tour de force acting. Russell and Rhys have actually become a real life couple and are perfectly matched in theatrical skill and chemistry.

Equally marvelous are the couple’s daughter, Paige, played by Holly Taylor, Margo Martindale as their Soviet handler and Noah Emmerich as neighbor, FBI agent and friend, Stan Beeman.

As a whole the series is on par with The Wire, The West Wing and Breaking Bad. All six seasons of The Americans are available with an Amazon Prime membership. The theme of the show has great resonance today. Maria Butina, a current-day suspected Russian spy has been living in my old home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Talk about truth emulating fiction! Or is it the other way around?