November 24, 2017

Wanted: Australian tv series on Netflix

If you need a high octane tv show to get caught up in, look no further than Wanted, a two season Australian thriller currently streaming on Netflix.

Imagine two women, à la Thelma and Louise, at a suburban bus stop Down Under, one a youngish accountant and the other a middle-aged check-out clerk who inadvertently get caught up in murder, drugs and kidnapping.

Rebecca Gibney as the older, more streetwise Lola Buckley plays well against Geraldine Hakewill as the more timid rich girl, Chelsea Babbage. They encounter dirty cops, human traffickers, loan sharks, a crime lord and people with longstanding grudges. A little bit of romance is injected into the scenario as they elude both the police and the bad guys who sometimes are one and the same.

As an added bonus, the women find themselves in gorgeous locations like Thailand and New Zealand so fans of beautiful cinematography will be rewarded. Make no mistake, this is no Charlie’s Angels, however, with coiffed hair and designer clothes. In the 12 episodes (6 per season), these gals opt for being formidable instead of fashionable.

Americans and Aussies will have to wait until 2018 to see what happens to our two ladies on the lam when Wanted continues with Season 3.

Thicker Than Water on MHZ

If you are looking for a fantastic family drama with amazing acting, look no further than Thicker Than Water, a Swedish/Finnish tv production currently streaming on MHZ. Yes, it has sub-titles.

Three siblings are invited to meet at the family-owned inn in the Aland islands which are part of Finland but full of Swedish-speaking inhabitants. Lasse Waldemar (Bjorn Bengtsson) is the bad boy brother who is a failed restaurant owner in Stockholm. Jonna Waldemar (Aliette Opheim) is the beautiful sister who has made her life in regional theater. Oskar Waldemar (Joel Spira) is the resentful brother who stayed behind to run the family business and take care of “mom.”

The mother meets with each adult child and gives them a one sentence message to remember. She then takes a boat out on the water and shoots herself. After all, this is set in Scandinavia. Her female lawyer lays down requirements the children need to meet to inherit their mother’s estate. They need to stay on the island and run the small hotel, together, for one summer.

Family secrets, former loves, personal dramas and sibling rivalry all come to a boiling point during this summer season at the old family compound.

The ten-episode season does have an element of “murder mystery” about it, but the main emphasis explores the bonds between parents and child, brothers and sisters, spouses and neighbors. Thicker Than Water makes for exciting television in any language.

Trapped on Amazon Prime

People keep telling me that they can’t watch shows with sub-titles, but then they would be missing yet another gripping television program called Trapped, from Iceland no less. The cinematography alone conjures up the most vivid depiction of a winter storm that I have ever seen.
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Trapped is ten episodes of taut suspenseful drama . Chock full of flawed but endearing characters, the series is a tapestry of past and current criminal behavior in this isolated yet starkly beautiful Icelandic town. Local police officials are confronted with a headless and limbless corpse that has also been stabbed through the heart. Crime honchos from the capitol city of Reykjavik are unable to fly or drive to this remote location due to an epic winter storm. The blizzard conditions also keep all of the inhabitants “trapped” in this ocean-side burg.

Focus stays on the local law enforcement officials, Andri, Hinrika and Asgeir who valiantly try to determine the guilty parties and keep more mayhem at bay. Let us just say that the carved-up cadaver is just the tip of this nefarious iceberg.

Multiple plot lines concerning human trafficking, the financial collapse of 2008, a suspicious fire seven years ago that killed a teenage girl and simmering grudges all converge by episode ten. Trapped is quintessential Scandi-noir.

You may not want to watch this series in the dead of winter since the engagingly chilly scenes just may be overkill.

French television shows available on streaming services

Anyone who wants to begin learning a language or freshen their knowledge of current dialogue in a foreign language may consider checking out television programs in that language.

My emphasis in this blog post is on French programs that have legible sub-titles on internet streaming platforms.

Even if you aren’t trying to learn a language, you will delight in Gallic crime shows, dramas and comedies.

MHZ has a large collection of French tv shows, but Netflix also has some very interesting selections. You can add the MHZ service to your Amazon Prime account, or add the app to your Apple TV line-up. Please consult the link below to see how else you can access MHZ. Hulu is adding a few more French programs so check them out as well.

I will continue to search for more French television series on streaming services. If you run across anything good in French, please send me your French tv recommendations and where you found them.

Bonne chance!

French television shows available on streaming services:

Braquo – MHZ – A brutal but well-made police procedural.

The Break (La Treve) – Netflix – An unsettling Belgian psychological crime series.

Bureau of Sexist Affairs – MHZ – Comedy shorts on various topics.

Cain – MHZ – A charming cop show starring Bruno Debrandt.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – Netflix – A comedy about stars and their agents in France.

The Churchmen (Ainsi Soient-Ils) – MHZ – A thoughtful drama about young men studying to become Catholic priests.

Detectives – MHZ – A light, entertaining detective series.

Dolmen – MHZ – A ridiculously romantic series if you are in the mood for such fare.

Frank Riva – MHZ – The iconic Alain Delon plays an ex-detective who returns to the fray.

A French Village (Un Village Francais) – MHZ & Hulu – Historical fiction about World War II in a small town in France.

Kaboul Kitchen – MHZ – Comedy set in Afghanistan. Not my cup of kefir, but some like it.

Maigret – MHZ – Simenon novels are depicted on the small screen. Very popular, but not one of my favorite series.

Maison Close – Hulu –  Quite raunchy story about a bordello in France. Only if you are not easily offended.

Marseille – Netflix – Fair to middling political intrigue in Marseille. Tune in to see the marvelous Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Magimell who goes toe to toe with him.

Paris – MHZ – Off-beat series about Parisians whose paths cross in surprising ways.

Pigalle, la Nuit – Hulu – A dramatic series set in Paris’ Pigalle area depicting tawdry doings.

The Returned (Les Revenants) – Netflix – The dead return. Season 1 was mesmerizing; Season 2 bored me to … tears.

Spiral (Engrenages) – MHZ & Hulu – Voted best 2015 tv show in the world and rightly so. Crime, legal and political skullduggery.

The Witnesses (Les Temoins) – Netflix – Decent detective series starring Thierry Lhermitte.

And for short clips for the beginning French student:

Oh La La, Hollywood Speaks French (two French sisters in the U. S.) – youtube

The Night Manager on Amazon Prime

My new crush is Tom Hiddleston, the English actor who plays Jonathan Pine in the spy thriller series, The Night Manager currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Adapted from a 1993 John LeCarre novel, and updated to present day by David Farr, the six-episode series originally broadcast on the BBC, was aired on AMC for American TV audiences.

Not only did Hiddleston pick up a Golden Globe best actor award, but Hugh Laurie (House) and Olivia Colman won best supporting awards as well. Director Susanne Bier and music composer Victor Reyes garnered Emmys for the production.

The story is engaging, the locales glamorous (Cairo, Istanbul, the Alps, London, Mallorca) and the acting impeccable. If you like world political intrigue, this is the mini-series for you. And I vote for Hiddleston as the next James Bond.

Nobel tv series on Netflix

Netflix continues to feature foreign tv series for those who want to see what the world is watching. Nobel is an engaging series on Norway’s military involvement in Afghanistan. We follow Erling Riiser, a special forces soldier working in this troubled region. His wife, Johanne works in Norway’s foreign service so we get to see the different threads feeding into the conflict. Business interests, regional feuds, the status of women and diplomacy all figure into this complex mix.

The title refers to the annual Nobel Prize and the Nobel female descendant who helps choose who is honored. As the series unfolds, we keep shifting our opinions about who is behaving honorably and who is letting greed and expediency determine their behavior.

Tuva Novotny as Erling comes off as a modern day Viking as he literally “soldiers on.” His friend Jon Petter Hals (admirably portrayed by Anders Danielsen Lie) loses his legs in combat, and we observe his painful recovery back in Norway. The program may make you more sympathetic to our vets who have lost limbs in foreign combat.

If you’d like to know more about Norwegian politics and its involvement in Afghanistan, Nobel might be the well-made drama for you.

SyFy’s The Expanse on Amazon Prime

The holidays allowed me to get my sci-fi geek on with The Expanse, the SyFy series currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Termed a space opera/mystery science fiction drama, my brother-in-law informed me that the show is based on a series of books written by James S. A. Corey (the pseudonym for two guys named Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.)

The show is set in the future when humans have colonized space including Mars and outposts on the asteroid belt. We are introduced to Belter detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) who is tasked with finding Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), the missing daughter of a business tycoon. The main cast is rounded out by Jim Holden (Steven Strait), an Earther airship captain, a Martian pilot named Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), another crew member who grew up poor “on the Belt,” Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), a mechanic who is dangerously devoted to Nagata plus Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a leader with the U.N. and strongly pro-Earth.
Ancillary roles are filled by Paulo Costanzo (Royal Pains), Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead), Shawn Doyle (Big Love) and Jared Harris (The Crown) among many others.

The computer generated images of life in space are impressive, the clothing in crowd scenes amusing and the acting and writing quite good. If you like sci-fi shows, The Expanse may be your kind of program. Season 2 returns to the SyFy channel on February 1, 2017.

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries

inspector_lynley_mysteries_uk-showThe Inspector Lynley Mysteries, a British crime tv series issued a total of twenty-three episodes, most of which I have seen and enjoyed, but I knew relatively little about the Elizabeth George novels which inspired the tv program. Eleven of her murder mysteries were turned into scripts, but she wrote 19 books featuring the aristocratic Inspector Thomas Lynley and his lower-class partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers.

Other characters woven throughout the series are his girlfriend and later wife, Helen Clyde, and his old school friend, Simon St. James, both from upper crust backgrounds. Her first Lynley novel was A Great Deliverance published in 1988. I accidentally happened upon With No One as Witness, issued in 2005.  As good as the tv episodes were, I find her writing even more thrilling and satisfying. My literary bias showing?with-no-one-as-witness

elizabeth-george-c-michael-stadlerIn George’s bio, I find out that she is an American, born in Ohio and raised in California, but has set many of her novels in Great Britain, featuring police officers, criminals and ordinary folk both rich and poor. Her book output also contains 7 other fiction works and a non-fiction release entitled Write Away.

Donna Leon also springs to mind, the New Jersey author of 26 crime novels set in Venice with Commissario Guido Brunetti as the hero. What is it about these American women who write compellingly about crime in other countries? If you are a fan of the murder mystery genre in the spirit of Agatha Christie, you can’t go wrong with books either by Elizabeth George or Donna Leon.

Beck is Back!

Like Wallander, another Swedish fictional detective, Martin Beck has had several incarnations in film and television. I have been following the 34 episode tv version, Beck starring Peter Haber.

Based on ten books by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, the first three seasons of 8 episodes each feature Martin Beck tackling socially relevant crimes with the help of his volatile police partner, Gunvald Larsson played by Mikael Persbrandt. Beck is just an ordinary guy, never glamorous, sometimes gruff, but always dogged in his pursuit of the truth behind crimes.

Thanks to MHZ Choice for streaming the original three seasons and new Beck material including Season 4, at just 2 episodes and seasons 5 with eight episodes. It’s so good to be back in the world of Martin Beck, albeit in Sweden.

Marseille – French tv series on Netflix

Netflix is embracing original tv projects in other languages with Marseille, a French production starring Gerard Depardieu currently trending on the streaming service.

Depardieu plays Robert Taro, the longtime mayor of Marseille. There are some parallels to Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of a fictional Chicago mayor in the Starz show, Boss. Both characters are portrayed, warts and all. Taro is up for re-election. He loves his city and does a reasonably good job as mayor, but is considered “old school” and is secretly addicted to cocaine.

His rival, Lucas Barres (malevolently played by actor Benoit Magimel) is a former protege who is even more flawed than Taro. Son of a convict mother and raised in the foster system as an orphan, Barres uses his sexual wiles to sway both sexes, makes questionable deals behind the scenes and hires thugs to “convince” voters. Taro’s wife, Rachel (the elegant Geraldine Pailhas), is a talented cellist suffering from a neurological disorder. His daughter, Julia, played by Stephanie Caillard is dating a drug-dealing young man of Arab heritage. Actress Nadia Fares is cast as Vanessa d’Abrantes, the villainous political accomplice of Barres.

This series does not share the excellence of French show Spiral, but it has some redeeming qualities. The cinematography of Marseille really gives you a good feel for this southern French port city. Production values are high with elegant art direction and an interesting music soundtrack. The show gives you a unique perspective on political campaigning in France, proving that politics is a rough business in any country.

Depardieu, who has had a successful decades-long career in film, is still an imposing figure both physically and in his acting technique. Magimel is a revelation as he matches Depardieu in presence and skill.

If you are working on your French conversation, you will hear current slang that you definitely won’t find in Balzac or Moliere!