The first episode of the return of “Mindhunter” was brooding and brilliant, a perfect scene setter. And the ensuing four episodes have maintained what makes this series so brilliant: the meshing of the ordinary lives of trail-breaking forensic psychologists and the macabre world of their purview, the serial killer; splendid acting across the board; excellent cinematography (with a muted color palette that matches the terrain wonderfully) and sets from the early 80s; great subtlety (we see little direct violence, this gruesome world is shown via interviews); and a nuanced examination of what I’m interested in, namely the nature of evil. The pace over Episodes 2 to 5 slows and we’re privy into more of the internal lives of the core characters. In particular Anna Torv is spellbinding as she eases more onto center stage in the role of Dr. Wendy Carr. The cameo performances as iconic serial killers continue to mesmerise; Damon Herriman’s riveting performance as Charles Manson justifies the entire season. The narrative slows over these episodes and by Episode 5 of Season 2, I wondered if the overall story was losing direction, hence the lower 7/10 rating, but I remain confident that the closing half of the season will restore the dramatic arc.
Can they make a superb series, five seasons in, even better? I rated the first episode of the fifth season of “Bosch” as 8 out of 10, high praise indeed, but the next four episodes have flowed slickly and thrillingly and emotionally, without a moment’s hesitation, so I’m upping my assessment. Harry Bosch and the extended LA police team around him keep up the slow, patient work into opioid pill farming, while a blight from Harry’s past looms as a threat. The mood of gritty realism retains a focus on modern morality. I’m on edge going into the finale half!
What did I know of the soccer legend before viewing “Diego Maradona,” beautifully scripted and filmed by noted director Asif Kapadia? Just some sketchy memories from the early 90s. What do I know about the sport of soccer itself? Almost nothing. None of that handicapped my immersed pleasure in this blistering yet affectionate documentary. Kapadia seems to have unearthed a treasure trove of raw footage, from family scenes to crowd scenes, and he interposes it skilfully amidst public sports coverage. Maradona’s ball handling skills are sumptuously shown; more subtlety portrayed are his bulldog determination to succeed. “A bit of cheat and a lot of genius” is how one commentator judges him early in the film (blessedly the usage of external commentary is sparse), and then towards the bitter-sweet end another commentator pronounces him as God, which was how he was seen in Naples until the mass rejection. Kapadia keeps us close to the action although the man himself remains elusive, perhaps both slum-born good guy Diego and self-created tough baddie Maradona. A magically endowed star who plummets … riveting.
“John Wicks: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is an ultra-violent, elegant, smart confection. I came to it without having watched the first two outings in the franchise, and I came to it with trepidation, but the word of mouth was so good that I had to see it, and I’m delighted to have done so. The action kicks off immediately, with super-assassin Wick “excommunicated” by the secretive High Table, and within a couple of minutes, seemingly thousands of assassins are pursuing our hero, who plunges through the wet, dark streets of New York, then progressively heads to Africa to somehow track down the boss of them all in order to have any chance at all of staying alive. Keanu Reeve has always been an underestimated actor and here he excels, suitably direct and simple yet with touches of irony and a core of decency. Supporting roles and cameo appearances are provided by a stellar cast, well suited and all on song, with particular mentions needed for Ian McShane and Mark Dacascos. Dan Lausten’s cinematography stuns again and again. The choreographed mayhem is video-game-stylized and offers the kinds of spills and thrills that the last half decade of superhero movies has relinquished. In summary, “John Wick 3” is a lush, kinetic, smart treat.
Doesn’t the world shine more brightly with imaginative tales like “The Umbrella Academy” out there? I rated the first episode as 8/10 and then felt the next four episodes drifted a little. But from the start of Episode 5 through to its (literally) cataclysmic finale, the viewer is in good hands. The pace sprints, each plot component is expertly wrought, and every scene is filmed gorgeously and artfully realized. All seven of the superheroes are perfectly cast for seven actors in fine form; let me resist praising Ellen Page and instead carve out Tom Hopper in the nuanced role of Luther, Robert Sheehan pitch perfect as Klaus, and Cameron Britton as villain turned penitent. After eight episodes, “The Umbrella Academy” feels how a superhero movie should: cartoonish yet mythic and a thrill.
“The Great Hack” is an “in the moment” documentary digging into the Cambridge Analytica scandal (that’s the term that’s often used; watch this film and you’ll call it a crime) of a firm using Facebook data to help bring about Trump and Brexit. Does anyone realize how recent those events were? Now directors Karin Aimer and Jehane artfully and unobtrusively, but to great dramatic effect, cover the ongoing (and still “going on”) series of revelations about the real truth. A multi-pronged examination, “The Great Hack” focuses on brave academic David Carroll, intrepid journo Carole Cadwalladr, and, from the trenches, whistleblowers Brittany Kaiser and Chris Wyllie. It’s a stunning, tense narrative that zings from an atmospheric start to its savage climax. CA, in particular its former CEO, fight hard to seem relatively innocent but instead reveal the consultancy as a propaganda gun for hire marketing to despots and would-be despots around the world. This is a must-see for anyone concerned about data privacy and a fine piece of film-making.
If “When They See Us” is judged by its emotional freight, it will count as one of the year’s best series. This wrenching tale of the most egregious miscarriage of justice strikes at the heart of the underlying American racism revealed over three decades, since the Central Park Five, teenagers all, were bullied into “kind of” confessing to the near-murderous 1989 rape of a female stockbroker in Central Park. I remember the event – I arrived in New York on a business trip that night – but barely registered the subsequent story, so it was all brand new to me, and by the fourth episode I could not contain my tears. Director and cowriter Ava DuVernay has absolute control of her incendiary material and how she structures the plot, especially the positioning and framing of the final episode, with a well-pitched sharp closing, is a masterclass in modern filmmaking. All the key actors, including the Five doubled up in their original and subsequent lives, are insanely well acted, and Felicity Huffman’s antagonist performance feels as real as real can get. Each episode’s script is tight, tight, tight, and the wonderful relatively sparing soundtrack is a mix of well known and unfamiliar music. Most highly recommended.
What a quixotic, brilliant movie “Woman at War” is! Benedikt Erlingsson, who directed and co-wrote this feature, is not familiar to me, but he has not only written a searching, pitch-perfect script, his direction delights throughout. The film opens up with what becomes a familiar scene, with fifty-year-old Halla, choir director, out in the starkly filmed Icelandic wilderness sabotaging power lines in order to bring the local aluminium industry to heel. She’s an eco warrior passionate about climate change! This theme is interesting enough, but the movie rattles along like a thriller, albeit marked by sprightly eccentricities, like a three piece playing the movie soundtrack inside each scene. Halla is played spectacularly well by Halldora Geirharosdottir, who also portrays Halla’s twin sister Asa, around which a couple of neat plot twists unfold. The backdrop of a government under the sway of foreign interests, bringing in American technology, including drones, to track the saboteur, adds contemporary relevance. Most recommended, both intelligently entertaining and thought provoking.
Is “Anima,” a fifteen-minute film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson around two songs from Thom Yorke’s new album, a promo or a real film? Given that it has been added by Netflix to its movie roster, I chose to treat it as a movie in its own right and my happy viewing ratifies that decision. Starring Yorke himself (his grizzly features and intelligent, offset eyes add memorable authenticity to a wonderful performance), “Anima” is essentially a long-form dance sequence narrating Yorke’s Dreamtime pursuit of a woman on a train, with enchanting balletic sequences of bodies moving en masses down alleys, up slopes, and amidst swirling shapes. No ballet fan, I was nonetheless swept up by the many rubbery bodies marching onwards amidst gorgeous halucinogenic backdrops. The pace is nonstop and nothing stays the same for long. And of course Yorke’s blippy, droned, meditative music is a perfect accompaniment. Most enjoyable.
That “Bosch,” a straightforward LA police procedural series has prospered into a fifth season is due not only to our appetite for such series but the brilliance of the underlying Michael Connelly books; stellar, tight scriptwriting; and the depth and verisimilitude of Titus Welliver’s starring role as Harry Bosch, our coiled seeker of justice for those murdered. Add a large and spot-on ensemble supporting cast, the cinematographic portrayal of Los Angeles as its own character, and a brain-capturing theme song, and one can see it heading into double digit seasons. The first episode of Season 5 opens with a fraught long scene of Bosch undercover, then we’re tossed back into the swirling minutiae of arising cases and situations: a pill robbery gone bad; the possibility of a Bosch-jailed killer gaining freedom and no doubt revenge; internship at the police station of Maddie, Bosch’s daughter; and even the aging of two ornery detectives. After the traumas of Season 4, I expected a drop in quality, but based on this first episode, we are in for another tense, engrossing ride.