May 29, 2020

McMafia on Sundance Now

I am still on a crime drama tv-watching spree and McMafia on Sundance Now has fed that yen with international style. A co-production with the BBC, AMC and Cuba Pictures, the tv series is based on the 2008 non-fiction book by reporter Misha Glenny, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

James Norton plays Alex Godman, son of a Russian mafia don who is trying to go straight in England. Alex and his British fiancee get drawn into the international skullduggery. Vadim Kalyagin (actor Merab Ninidze) shows up as the arch nemesis crime boss still in Russia who threatens the entire Godman family.

Almost all of the major male characters have attachments to family members or friends who become their points of weakness. A grey-bearded David Strathairn as shady Israeli businessman Semiyon Kleiman and Antonio Mendez (actor Caio Biat) as a handsome liaison for a vicious Mexican drug cartel are some of the bad guys who make use of these relationships. Wives, daughters, mothers and girlfriends are, for the most part, collateral damage in this serious-as-death global game.

The show intro shows a red map line extending from Mumbai, to Prague, to London to Moscow with exotic stop-overs that include Tel Aviv, Cairo and the Cayman Islands. The cinematography can be stunning and the cultural glimpses intriguing.

McMafia, co-created by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, is a smart international crime show that is all the more frightening when you consider its inspiration was a non-fiction book. Season 2 has been ordered. Release date pending.

Riviera TV Series on Sundance Now

When the mood is somber in your home and abroad, what better way to disperse the blues than to watch some escapist soap opera fare? Riviera, set in, you guessed it, southern France and Monaco is definitely eye candy.

The show has quite a pedigree. Neil Jordan, the director of such notable films as Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, has created and co-written Riviera with high brow British author, John Banville. Jordan has since disavowed any connection to the series with the addition of sex scenes and writing changes that he did not sanction. That somehow ups the trash factor allure.

The cast features Julia Stiles as recent widow, Georgina Clios whose husband, billionaire and art collector Constantine Clios is mysteriously blown up on a yacht in episode one. Anthony LaPaglia plays the shady mogul in flash backs, with Lena Olin dramatically entering the scene as his first wife. The most surprising cast member is Will Arnett in a semi-serious role as Georgina’s uncle.

The plot is littered with screwed up children, rich and dangerous friends, racehorses, scary strong men, corporate skullduggery and art fraud.

I can see why Jordan has divorced himself from this project. Murder, mental illness, kidnapping, and surprise parentage are soap opera staples thrown into this improbable potpourri. Still, the cinematography, the homes, the clothing and the very bad behavior is strangely compelling. Just what the doctor ordered when stuck at home without a Monet on the wall or a bottle of Dom Perignon in the wine cave.

I watch Sundance Now as an added channel on my Amazon Prime Video account.

Library apps: Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby

Libraries have two strikes against them during this Covid-19 outbreak. They are not considered essential services and they risk attracting numbers of people who may catch or spread the disease. I understand the rationale, but if ever we needed the comfort of books, it is now.

Library apps to the rescue. If you have a library card number, you have access to a wealth of downloadable material on at least three different apps. Overdrive lets you download e-books, audiobooks and magazines like Oprah, Newsweek, Prevention, House Beautiful and Forbes, among others.

https://www.overdrive.com/explore

Hoopla not only carries ebooks and audiobooks, but movies, comics, an impressive catalogue of recorded music and a treasure trove of television shows both old and new. The library card holder is limited to six selections per month however.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/my/hoopla

Libby, an off-shoot of Overdrive, specializes in audiobooks and ebooks. The user is able to set preferences like genre, language and availability. One can explore new releases with the ability to put holds on the most popular titles. Libby estimates how many weeks one will have to wait for a title. I always have one or two books downloaded from this easy-to-use app.

https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/

If you have the money, please order a book from your local bookstore. If, however, you are pinching pennies, you can be grateful Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby apps are free. We have our public library system to thank for this. Books, to my mind, are essential.

The Embassy: Spanish tv series on MHZ

MHZ, the tv streaming site which now bills itself as the Euro TV Place, has just added its first Spanish tv series, The Embassy. Ripped from today’s headlines, we are introduced to the new Spanish ambassador sent to Bangkok, Thailand. He discovers a vicious nest of corruption in his new office.

The crooked staff push back by sending his wife doctored photos showing him with a female employee. They hire someone to plant drugs in his daughter’s purse causing her to be arrested and sent to prison. They also frame him for corruption and generally make his life miserable.

This is a dramatic soap opera, so we watch with glee as his attractive wife has a one night stand with a younger man who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend. The brother of the main bad guy also falls in love with the ambassador’s daughter.

Political intrigue, greed, emotional deception and murder all play a part in this very entertaining 11 part series. The final episode is a little too melodramatic for my taste, but the series is a fun ride nonetheless.

After reading more about our current foreign policy, The Embassy does not seem so outlandish!

Link to the tv show: https://watch.mhzchoice.com/the-embassy

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.

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.