Quickfire round: Inheritance

An annoying waste of time, this movie drags you along through its story – littered with boring characters and empty set design – with the promise of a great, mystery-solving payoff at the end. Spoiler: it was not worth it.

Who is she pointing that gun at? If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know how smart this caption is.

“That sounds like such a great story, let’s turn it into a movie!” <- words which were, apparently, uttered by someone, for how else would we have ended up with the 1 hour, 51 minutes waste of time that is Inheritance? I will struggle to write more than a few hundred words on this for that is how hollow the entire thing is.

Lauren Monroe, Manhattan District Attorney and member of a very wealthy family, inherits part of her late farther’s estate including, via posthumously released video tape, the ‘deepest secret’ her family has. I’ll tell you right now: it’s a man who’s been chained up in an underground bunker on the family estate for 30 odd years. Okay, as a viewer, you’re immediately interested, right? What’s this guy doing down here? Who is he? How has he been kept a secret for so long? Lauren tries to uncover the truth without telling anyone in her family about the guy.

So what went wrong? Firstly, this is one of the weakest attempts at creating an atmosphere for the story that I have seen. The entire supporting cast, including her brother, husband, daughter, and colleagues, may as well have not been in the movie at all for all they brought to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay for thriller/horror movies to concentrate intensely on the central plot. But only if that central plot is worth it. This… wasn’t. I won’t spoil the exact ending but will say that, essentially, the mother in the family knew about the guy in the basement, and the plot twist he would help execute, the whole time. Whoop-de-doo!

If you’re thinking I added Inheritance to my Watch List after seeing Lily Collins in Emily in Paris, you’d be right, damn you. Honestly, she does as good as job as she can here, but the role feels totally mis-cast.

Give this one a miss.

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Back for more: Unsolved Mysteries (Season 2)

Slightly less captivating than the first season, this show about mysteries which remain – literally – unsolved to this day, still managed to keep me hooked for long enough to recommend it.

A body found in a landfill – how did it get there? We still don’t know for sure.

The first season kicked off with a genuinely eerie mystery – a man found lodged in the roof of a hotel building, having seemingly fallen through it from a great height. Season 2 kicks off in similar fashion with the discovery of a body in a landfill site. Former White House aide Jack Wheeler showed up there after a short disappearance following calls of a disturbance near his house. We see lots of CCTV footage of Jack’s last hours, where he looks agitated and confused, which raises plenty of questions aside from the apparent murder.

For the rest of the episodes, we swap out last season’s broad theme of ‘injustice’ (recalling the murder of a black man at a house party in a highly conservative town) with one of sheer mystery, as we learn about abduction of two different toddlers from the same New York City park – just three months apart. Absolutely mortifying.

Another one for the mystery fans – and one that makes for really good book material – is the unexplained death of a woman in a hotel room in Norway. This was probably my favourite of the series. For starters, we don’t ever find out the woman’s identity, let alone how or why she died. But the story of how they tried to answer these questions is fascinating and a real treat for mystery fans. Of course, it is also grossly tragic – and one must remember that these are real cases with real people waiting on the end of a phone line to hear from viewers who may have information that can lead to the case being solved.

There is also, like last season, a paranormal episode, this time involving ‘spirits’ said to have appeared after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I gave this one a miss, as I usually don’t do paranormal stuff where it is represented as fact.

Overall, whilst I wasn’t quite as captivated by the mysteries from the first season, viewers who enjoyed that one will no doubt enjoy this one as well.

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Quickfire round: American Murder: The Family Next Door

Despite its forgettable title (is it American Family: The Murder Nextdoor? Or America Nextdoor: The Family Murder? Neither!) this documentary uses incredible original footage to tell the chilling story of how, and why, Shannan Watts and her two children were cruelly murdered.

One person in this photo escaped death. Can you guess who it was?

I’ll start off by saying that this documentary shows how far we’ve come with technology in our society that it is able to tell the story in such a coherent manner with absolutely no voice-over and only first-hand footage (from police body cams and interview rooms, neighbours, news crews, text messages, and Shannan herself).

This method of telling the story makes it all the more terrifying. We start out with police body cam footage – after Shannan’s friend and colleague called the police, concerned for her whereabouts as she wasn’t responding to texts. The footage – otherwise entirely routine – immediately captures a scene of confusion and mystery as Shannan – and her two young children – are nowhere to be seen. Her phone is there and switched off, but the children’s blankets are gone. Her husband, Chris Watts, raced back from work at a remote oil well, and seems distracted as he speaks to officers about the last time he saw his wife alive and who – or where – she could have gone to.

Incredibly, the documentary also features Shannan herself. She was a prolific Facebook user, recording and posting footage of family moments almost daily. What a juxtaposition these happy videos of her and her husband are to the text messages she was exchanging with her friends and colleagues shortly before her death – telling a story of how her husband had become distant and uninterested in her.

I think I know what makes the documentary so gripping. The Facebook videos and text messages are all pre-death, of course. And the police footage is post-death. We therefore see the story unravel from two perspectives – Shannan’s, as she hurtles towards her murder, and the police, as they piece everything together. Everything is revealed in sync with each other – the text messages become more surreal and desperate as the police interviews become more dramatic and revealing. It’s great storytelling, if incredibly tragic.

If you like true crime, you absolutely don’t want to miss this.

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Back for more: Good Girls (Season 3)

The Breaking Bad meets suburban-housewives dark comedy is back for a third season which takes it in a slightly different direction, although fans of the first two seasons surely won’t be disappointed.

Never a dull moment in the lives of these three.

It looks like everything has gone back to a relative normal for the three working mums following the drama of the last season. Beth is a shop assistant at a greetings cards business who press their own designs. Annie is a shop attendant and moonlights as a valet, bringing in lots of single dollar bills. And Ruby puts up with rude customers at a nail salon.

Hold on a minute. A printing press, lots of dollar bills, and access to solvents… uh oh. The girls haven’t retired from a life of crime, in fact, they’re working on perfecting their fake money printing scheme. Free from the harsh oversight of crime master Rio, they’re looking to run their own illegitimate enterprise. However, as inventive as they are, it doesn’t take long for them to get taken advantage of by the more bone-headed type of criminal.

The show continues its winning formula of heartwarming family issues, quick-witted humour and surreal violence all wrapped up in Breaking Bad style suburban criminality. This season we get to see more of a focus on Ruby’s deteriorating relationship with Stan and her kids, which is interesting as I’d pointed out in my review of Season 2 that we weren’t seeing enough of that family. Sadly I can’t take any credit for the shift as the third season was already airing in the US when I wrote it.

If you like Good Girls and its rather absurd premise, you’ll certainly like the third season. For newcomers, don’t start here. There’s too much backstory you’re missing out on.

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What I thought about: Mary Kills People (Seasons 1-3)

Thought-provoking and dramatic, if a little rough around the edges, this drama about a doctor who assists suicide whilst balancing home and work life and being under constant peril from police investigation, is a great watch for fans of shows like Dexter.

Des, looking confused as ever.

What’s it about?
Dr Mary Harris is a doctor who saves people. She also kills people. You see, Mary thinks people should be in control of their death as much as they are of their life. Some of the patients at her hospital, referred to her by nursing colleague Annie, are facing terminal illness, and are usually in pain or will deteriorate to such a point. Because of that, they want to go sooner rather than later. Mary issues a fatal dose of pentobarbital, a sedative sometimes used to execute prisoners when carrying out the death penalty.

Of course, what Mary’s doing is illegal* and only a select few countries, such as Switzerland, allow you to die with the assistance of someone else. Mary, together with her business partner and former plastic surgeon Des, therefore pose as end-of-life counsellors and meet discretely with patients. The series arc sees an undercover police investigation to catch Mary in the act. Let’s just say it doesn’t go according to plan.

What do I like about it?
First up, it’s got that consistent pacing I love in US dramas. Yes, there’s a wider series plot, but the show doesn’t get swallowed up in it. This is gonna sound weird, but every episode is Death Guaranteed. A new person, a new story, every single time. It helps to build the thought-provoking piece of the show as you learn about the different conditions and reasons why people might want to end their lives in this way.

Next, there are some nice side plots. Mary is a real doctor and also a (divorced) mother of two children, so it’s a lot to juggle and can get quite chaotic. The elder daughter, Jess, is friends with Naomi, a troubled teenager often left alone while her lawyer mother is away on business. Naomi gets jealous of Jess’ relationships and throughout the show she spirals further and further out of control. Gripping in its own right.

What do I not like about it?
In a word: Des. He is terrible. He is weird. His British accent is… questionable. He is misery. He is pain. He is weak. I kind of get it, but at the same time I kind of wish they’d put in a side character who is mostly free from those attributes.

Des sums up the show’s occasionally shabby edges, another of which is their unrealistic portrayal of police investigations.

Worth a watch?
I binged this thing hard. If you don’t mind the philosophical issues and you like the typical American black comedy style, then absolutely.

By the way…

  • *The show is set in Canada, where assisted suicide was illegal until the law changed during filming of the third season, which means it technically doesn’t make any sense now.
  • I have to give credit to Katie Douglas for a particularly standout performance as Naomi.

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Back for more: How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) (Season 2)

The teenage drug kingpin is back. MyDrugs has become a national hit, and Moritz has developed an online persona, m1000, to carry that fame anonymously. With an expanding business, he faces new challenges – especially as his friends and accomplices want out.

Who knew to sell drugs you had to befriend a bunch of Albanians and go hunting?

This season was a nice continuation of the first, and I must have watched it all in under 48 hours. So, yes, it’s just as gripping as before. Moritz is pressing ahead with his business, aided by his friends (read: suppliers) from the Netherlands, who encourage the expansion and even ask Moritz to develop a front to keep control of his operations.

The show also continues to nail the more technical aspects of the plot. For example, new character Lena (whom Lenny has been catfishing since Season 1) is revealed to be a travelling con artist, blackmailing businessmen in hotels across region by hooking them into her fake ‘Free Hotel Wi-Fi’, an act that allows her to view their browsing activity and even remotely record their webcam while they… you know what. This is a very real possibility and a good lesson to be careful about joining any public / unsecured Wi-Fi networks, especially without the use of a VPN to encrypt your browsing.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Moritz struggles to balance his schoolwork, drugs business, and relationship with his girlfriend Lisa, whom he is desperately trying to keep safe from any knowledge of his activities. There might even be the return of a certain Albanian drugs gang looking for answer about how one of their own killed themselves with a certain someone’s 3D-printed gun…

It looks like this show is going to be renewed for a third season, and I’m all for it. The production values are fantastic and I love the attention to detail shown to the technical aspects of the show.

As always, watch in German and turn subtitles in if you need to.

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What I thought about: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

Convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, made headlines last year after he was charged with additional sex offences and then killed himself (*allegedly). What I’d never understood was who he really was and what he did to land him in jail and, ultimately, wind up dead. This powerful docuseries explains all.

Sarah Ransome recalling the moment she tried to swim to safety from Epstein’s private island

What’s it about?
Through interviews with ex-business associates, people who worked on his ‘paedophile island’, police chiefs and lawyers who worked on the case, and even Epstein’s own lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the story of Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal history is told. Above all of these people should sit Epstein’s victims, and we hear many of them tell their story in this series.

We learn where Epstein came from, and that he’s always been a manipulative liar. He started out as a school teacher, having lied about his degree (he didn’t have one) to get the job. From there, well, it was just a trail of deceit and crookery. The one thing the documentary isn’t able to tell you is exactly how he made his money, besides the vague notion that he managed other people’s money (and the assertion that, in some cases, he stole it).

What makes for more uncomfortable watching is the history of Epstein’s underage sex offences. With the help of his partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (who has now been arrested & charged with a litany of crimes), he lured underaged girls to his Palm Beach mansion, offering them money in return for a massage which often turned into non-consensual intercourse – in other words, he raped them. There were apparently hundreds of victims, it’s really quite horrific.

What do I like about it?
It’s not really appropriate to say I ‘liked’ this documentary. I do however think it’s important to watch. You feel a sense of outrage at Epstein’s ability to evade capture and, even when he was convicted of a numbed-down charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution in 2008, how his prison sentence was a joke and he was able to do whatever he wanted.

In some ways we can draw parallels to the shocking Abducted in Plain Sight documentary. Both men managed to manipulate others into letting them do whatever they wanted – and in both cases this lead to the sexual assault of minors.

What do I not like about it?
Overall it is a solid documentary, but some more rigid structure would have been a bit better. We kept jumping up and down the timeline, which was at times difficult to keep up with,

Worth a watch?
It’s not going to be an easy watch for some people, but if you were ever curious about the true scale of Epstein’s crimes then you need to watch this.

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Quickfire round: Alex Rider

Fourteen years on from Stormbreaker, the film adaptation of the first Alex Rider book that I absolutely loved watching (when I was 10), comes this TV adaptation of the second book, Point Blanc. Nostalgia, hit me!

Alex looking less than impressed after essentially being forced into being a teenage spy.

The first thing to note about this show is that, although it’s adapting the second book in the series, it’s been heavily modified to restart the story from before Alex became a spy. The death of Alex’s uncle and his recruitment into the special branch of MI6 is completely re-told and folded into the plot of the second book, which sort of makes sense. Newcomers get some crucial backstory, and fans of the books don’t have to sit through a second adaptation of Stormbreaker.

The plot of the Alex Rider series was always a bit over the top. He’s a teenage spy, somehow able to out-wit and out-fight quite a number of supposedly experienced bad guys. So, you know, just suspend your disbelief while you watch. In Point Blanc, Alex attends an academy of the same name, which claims to operate a highly successful rehabilitation school for troubled teenage children of wealthy and influential parents. In reality it’s a tool for worldwide domination dreamt up by Dr Hugo Greif, a neo-Nazi and head of the school.

Dr Grief is aided in his operations by SCORPIA, the terrorist organisation that isn’t actually revealed until the fifth book. Working for SCORPIA, top tier assassin Yassen Gregorovich performs a few contract kills on some parents of former pupils at Point Blanc who became suspicious after their children returned from the academy. Yassen is a key figure in the series and fans of the books will enjoy having him bump into Alex at the academy, telling him they may meet again.

Enough plot – was it any good? Yeah, it was. It was heavily adapted though. It takes place in the present (everyone has the latest iPhone), Alex has half the gadgets from the book, and (although this is a very good thing) the academy is half girls, whereas in the book they were all boys. But the action scenes were good and I was genuinely hooked even though I already sort of knew what was going to happen. It is very appropriately rated 12 – you’re not going to see some grisly death scenes and excessive swearing in this show.

Otto Farrant was fantastic in the leading role, and I really hope we get to see him reprise his role for a second (and third, and fourth…) season. The Alex Rider series, which is still being written, was probably my all time favourite fiction as a kid.

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What I thought about: Defending Jacob

Unusually dark when you consider Apple’s typically family friendly orientation, this slow-burn thriller is a different take on a murder mystery story. I’m just not convinced it’s a worthwhile one.

That moment when you have to have ‘the talk’ with your teenage son. No, not that one…

What’s it about?
Ben Rifkin, a teenager, is found murdered in the woods on his way to school. Leonard Patz, a registered sex offender living near the woods, is the obvious suspect. But as assistant district attorney Andy Barber struggles to get any hard evidence on him, another suspect crops up: his son, Jacob, who was in the same class as the victim and who also walks through the woods on the way to school. Before he knows it, police are swarming the family home and searching for the murder weapon. Convinced of his son’s innocence, and well and truly off the case, Andy fights to uncover the truth.

What follows is an oddly-paced unravelling of the story. Did Jacob do it? If so, why? How? We don’t find the answers to all of these questions.

What do I like about it?
It’s dark, and it’s not very violent. The slow pace is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s frustrating not watching something with the constant twists and turns we saw in something like The Stranger. On the other hand, smaller actions have more impact.

There’s a scene where Jacob’s mother Laurie goes shopping for groceries at the crack of dawn to avoid being spotted and harassed. She rounds the corner and bumps into the victim’s mother, Joan, who slowly approaches, zombie-like. “Joan…’ Laurie says, only to be cut off by Joan nastily spitting in her face before walking away. Both mothers were there to shop away from the gaze of strangers, either as the mother of a horrifically murdered son, or as the mother of the alleged murderer. If it was all action, I suppose we wouldn’t have thought anything of that scene.

What do I not like about it?
I can’t tell if the acting is terrible or really, really good. Jacob is a weird but plain kid. The way he looks at you is weird, he’s pretty quiet, and his mind is usually somewhere else. It gives off a creepy, sinister vibe. But at the same time, you can’t help but believe him when he says he’s innocent. So, maybe Jaeden Martell did exactly what the directors wanted him to do. Or maybe he’s a bad actor. I honestly can’t tell.

I also don’t like how many twists occur in the final two episodes. I think the pacing in murder mysteries is a tricky thing, and on this occasion they got it wrong, spending far too long setting the scene in the run up to the trial, and not enough on the last few pivotal moments.

Worth a watch?
Watch the trailer first and ask yourself if you have the patience to get through 6 hours of slow-burn before it all kicks off.

By the way…

  • Yes, that is Chris Evans of Captain America fame playing the father, Andy Barber.
  • Jacob’s actor starred in Knives Out as that little shit who’s always on his phone and WHO IS ALSO CALLED JACOB. I did not recognise him in this.

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Spring Clean – Other movies I’ve watched this year

I watch significantly more TV than I do Film. I think I find a 2-hour movie too much commitment. Oh, but a 5-hour TV series binge? Yeah, no sweat.

Sorry to Bother You
This was a weird one. It starts almost immediately with an uncanny valley feeling when the lead character starts a new job in telesales. Then the white guy accent comes out, and the weirdness steps up a level. Then again. Then again. Then, just when you thought you reached peak weird, it gets insane. It was good though – watch it!

One of the more innocently normal stills from this movie.

Watch out for that toilet later.

Parasite
This needs no encouragement from me. A deserved Oscar-winner and a great introduction to Korean cinema. It does get a bit weird towards the end – but hey, that’s just how they are.


Uncut Gems (half of it)
Yeah, no. I don’t doubt that this was a stand out performance from Adam Sandler, but I just found it way too stressful to watch. Everything kept going wrong in a way that just made me really anxious. I had to stop half way through.

Who knew facial hair was all it took for Adam Sandler to have depth as an actor?

I mean, it’s Keanu Reeves.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
It’s a John Wick movie. The plot is not really important (and it’s not really that good, either). But the action scenes are phenomenal, and Keane Reeves is a god. That is all.


El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story
I didn’t really feel this one, to be honest. It was really slow, really emotional, and I don’t really remember what actually happened. I was disappointed. There is, however, one incredibly satisfying shooting scene. Breaking Bad fans will watch this regardless.

Jesse is a wanted man in this lengthy snooze-fest.

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