Quickfire round: Love and Anarchy

This quirky Swedish show – ostensibly a workplace comedy romance – was an intriguing watch and ended up having a much deeper emotional side to it than the trailer would suggest. It won’t be for everyone, though.

The lipstick is a token for their dares.

Married mother-of-two Sofie is called in to a small publishing house in Stockholm to help them restructure as they struggle in a tough marketplace. Sofie is good at her job, but must be having trouble with her husband because, in the first few minutes of Episode 1, she’s masturbating in the family bathroom before work. After a long day at the office, she does the same thing, this time at her desk. Enter Max – no, literally, he enters the building to carry on with his IT construction work, having been sent home by Sofie earlier in the day for making too much noise. Max quickly gets his revenge by snapping a photo of Sofie doing her thing, and the next day turns up to work with a renewed sense of power.

“How much do you want?” Sofie asks, keen to have the video deleted. “I just want you to take me out for lunch”, says Max (character building earlier in the episode shows us that Max, many years younger than Sofie, has a thing for older women). And so out they go. Max hands over his phone for Sofie to delete the photo, but she then refuses to hand it back. “You made me do something, now you need to do something to earn this back”, she says, “do something outrageous at the office”.

And so begins a pretty hilarious game of workplace dares between Sofie and Max.

What I loved about this show was the setting. Everyone else at the publishing house are just trying their best to keep going, but still manage to be funny in their own right. Friedrich is an old stalwart of the publishing world whose older, male, clientele occasionally clash with Denise’s younger and more liberal authors. At one point Friedrich, following a series of failures (one of which is at the hands Sofie’s dare to Max), goes to an Ayahuasca retreat to treat and find his true self. You can imagine how that went.

Towards the end, the show reveals a sort of underlying purpose. We learned earlier that Sofie’s father, a staunch communist, is sometimes mentally unstable. Although her willingness to participate in Max’s escalating dares is perhaps an indication that Sofie might be suffering a similar ailment, it’s not until she literally hisses at her husband, animal-like, that we can be sure of it. You could also say that Max, feeling the pressure from his spiteful mother and stepfather, also loses it when he poses completely nude for a family photo. (This is also a good time to mention that there is full frontal nudity in this show.)

A short, charming, crazy show that’s absolutely best watched in its original language with subtitles, I really quite liked it.

499w

What I thought about: The Minions of Midas

I am simply not smart enough to understand the plot. This Spanish thriller starts off with a bang, but its twists morph it into something that, right to the very end, had me scratching my head.

Victor has two expressions. His shocked face, which is this one, and his thinking face.

What’s it about?
Victor Genovés, an executive at media conglomerate the Malvar Group, has recently become the company president after being named heir to the late owner’s fortune in his will. Shortly after, he receives a letter at his office, closed with a traditional wax seal. It’s from the Minions of Midas or Los favoritos de Midas, a shadowy group who want to engage in a business transaction with Victor. That’s a very polite way of putting it – for in reality they are extorting him to the tune of 50 million euros. The consequence if he doesn’t pay? A stranger will die – and they give an exact time and place for the murder.

Like any self-respecting millionaire, Victor is a little spooked by the letter but ultimately ignores it. Sure enough, a woman is killed in a hit and run at the exact time and place specified in the letter. Unlike any self-respecting millionaire, however, he refuses to cut the loss-making Observer newspaper from the Malvar Group. This upsets the board of directors and they assemble enough votes to ditch him – that is, until another letter from the Minions shows up. “We have some information that can help you keep your position in the company,” they say, “remember, your gain is our gain”.

How mysterious.

What do I like about it?
The first half makes for a great thriller. The police scramble to hunt down the Minions as, every five days, exactly where promised, another seemingly random stranger is killed. It’s also mind-bending at times – some of the murders are arguably not caused by the Minions at all but rather by the police themselves and the hysteria invoked by the shadowy organisation.

The other events of the show are also pretty good – and pretty bleak. Victor’s love interest, Observer journalist Mónica Báez, uncovers the Bank of Madrid’s shameful financing of the Syrian regime, and there are mass protests verging into riots across Spain moments before they are due to host the European Summit. The polarisation of Victor’s penthouse apartment and the rioters below him make for a stark image of class divide, and tie in somewhat well into the extortion plot.

What do I not like about it?
This is probably just me but… I didn’t get it? I don’t want to spoil the plot but, towards the end, Victor changes how he reacts to the Minions and makes decisions which are unlike his character in the first half of the show. I just can’t quite work out what it all means – and I’m one of those people who longs for at least some kind of closure.

Worth a watch?
Probably not, unless you like the idea of it. Not to sound weird or anything but there wasn’t a lot of death and violence in it to make up for the slow parts.

By the way…

  • There is some nudity.
  • This is a limited series – it ain’t coming back.

537w

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.

363w

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.

376w

Quickfire round: The Babysitter: Killer Queen

This movie would probably have made more sense if I knew it was a sequel and watched the original before diving into it. Oh well, it was still entertaining. Read on for some spoilers.

The shirtless demon is just funny, every single time you see it.

The movie follows on a few years after the events of the first. Put simply, our hero Cole’s babysitter turned out to be a psycho demon who needed to complete a ritual in order to pay her debt to the devil and achieve her dreams. Long story (and actual movie, which I suggest you go and watch first) short, his parents return to see a car embedded in their house and their son trying (and failing) to convince anyone about what had really happened that night.

Having discovered that his parents want to send him away to rehab for his ‘delusions’, Cole skips school with childhood friend Melanie and boards a party boat with her friends. Splat! One of the group is violently murdered in front of him. That’s right, it’s happening again. In fact, there’s double the demon in this movie as the original cast are back for revenge and to finish what they started.

And so commences what I imagine was quite similar to the first movie: Cole escapes and somehow, Home Alone-style, he manages to take out the demons one by one. It’s violent and bloody but also funny – the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously (I don’t think anyone is convinced about the underlying plot, not even the writers) and overall is a good watch for something with Halloween vibe that won’t absolutely terrify you. Yes, it has teen movie tropes (‘Kid, you just need to get laid!’ is the suggestion of his therapist) but some elements are funny in their own right, like Max, a demon who is inexplicably shirtless the entire time, just because.

The movie does half-hearted attempt at misdirecting the viewer into thinking that new girl Phoebe will end up being a baddie, not least because she sticks out like a sore thumb and opens her locker to a message of ‘it ends tonight’. I must admit that, even deep into the runtime, I still had my doubts about her. The way things panned out, however, I think that was more just me overthinking it than intentional writing.

If you haven’t seen the first movie you should probably watch that so the plot makes a bit more sense, but either way this movie hit the mark. Nothing exciting, nothing game-changing, just good (messy) fun.

425w

What I thought about: The Queen’s Gambit

Simply beautiful. This mesmerising tale of a female chess champion, set in the 50s and 60s, is a sheer wonder of storytelling, acting, and cinematography. And I say this as someone who has never much cared for chess.

I have never looked this lovingly at a chess board

What’s it about?
Beth Harmon, mere days into her time at a Christian orphanage following the suicide of her depressed mother, is sent to the basement to clean the board erasers, having finished her Maths test before anyone else. Sitting in a corner of the room is Mr Shaibel, the custodian (janitor), quietly playing a game of chess against himself. Curious, she one day approaches him and asks to play. ‘Girls do not play chess’, he says. ‘I already know some of the rules’, she retorts, and recites them perfectly – not from a book, but from her memory, pieced together from having observed Shaibel play day after day. He offers her a seat at the table.

The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth (has there even been a strong female lead stronger than Beth Harmon?) as she climbs her way up the ranks to becoming a world chess champion, while battling with substance abuse that began with her time in the orphanage. Can she avoid the destructive tendencies of her biological mother, and manage not to succumb to the temptations of alcohol and pills? It’ll take you seven roughly hour-long episodes to find out, but it’s absolutely worth it.

What do I like about it?
Too much to fit into this review, because every area of the show deserves an honourable mention. The set design (this is the 50s and 60s, remember) was brilliant. The musical score (particularly when playing via surround sound) is perfect and genuinely added a new dimension to the show. Major props also go to whoever was responsible for changing Beth’s look as she grew from 15 (pretending to be 13, so she would be more appealing to adoptive parents) all the way to her mid-20s. They actually did the transition between child actress Isla Johnston and Anya Taylor-Joy so smoothly that I had to squint to notice the difference in Taylor-Joy’s first scene.

Perhaps what I liked most about the show was how it never resorted to cheap tricks to keep me engaged. Beth gets a little bullied at school, and she suffers a bit of a shock in Las Vegas, but all of it felt appropriate. By not distracting me with sudden disaster, I floated through the story and appreciated every single scene, all the way up to the gripping finale.

What do I not like about it?
I don’t know if I just didn’t get it, but I’m really not sure what the whole thing was with Beth’s love interest, D.L. Townes. I said earlier how the show doesn’t get in your face about what’s happening on screen, but I’d have appreciated a little more explanation here.

Worth a watch?
Yes and, if you love chess, you might just explode.

By the way…

  • Netflix made it very clear this is a one-off Limited Series and I agree – don’t make a sequel. But please make more of whatever kind of show this is.
  • Yes the kid from Love Actually is in it and no I did not appreciate the moustache.

553w

Quickfire round: Borat Subsequent Movie Film

What is America like in 2020? Actually, no, don’t answer that. I want to be able to sleep tonight. Instead, let Borat answer it for you, as he presents his latest documentary, journalling his delivery of prodigious bribe to American regime for make benefit once glorious nation of Kazakhstan.

One of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever watched.

I have never actually seen the original Borat movie. I admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s skill as a comedian and writer, but I do find some of his character’s presentation a little unnecessarily exaggerated. So when I watched this film, I had to filter out the subtle humour (some of which is particularly excellent) from the more in-your-face absurdity shown by Borat (and his daughter). This requires filtering out about half of the film, which means I can’t really give it more than half-marks.

Borat, apparently ridiculed in his home nation of Kazakhstan due to the events of the first film, is sent back to the US by his glorious leader to provide a tainted gift to a US Vice President Mike Pence (a porn star monkey, if you must know). The plan is somewhat ruined when, in place of the monkey, his daughter shows up instead.

I should explain that this film is a sort of mix between reality and acting. It reminds me of Nathan For You (review coming… eventually), whereby an exaggerated character engages with real-world people who are slightly more willing to accept the character’s absurdity by the mere fact that the cameras are rolling and they signed a release form. So, we see Borat interact with a cross-section of American society, from plastic surgeons and bakery owners, to babysitters and extreme Trump supporters. Oh, and yes, Rudy Giuliani, who doesn’t come out of the movie looking particularly good.

Okay, so – what do you want me to say? Was the film any good? Well, like I said, I can only give it half marks. It was funny and it was cringey and some of the stuff he did was quite impressive. But it was also obscene and cringey and some of the stuff he did was unnecessary. I watched it because it’s current and I can talk to people about it. I certainly wouldn’t watch it for fun.

381w

Quickfire round: Enola Holmes

Put simply, this film delivered. A necessarily witty, intelligent, and stereotype-busting Enola Holmes, portrayed excellently by Millie Bobby Brown, investigates the disappearance of her mother, all while trying to outrun her two brothers (including, yes, that Sherlock Holmes).

Enola escapes to London dressed as a boy – the costume department did a great job.

Holmes spent much of her life being home-schooled by her mother, who taught her all manner of skills and knowledge which, if you were of the prevailing attitude of the time, girls ought not to know. Then, one day, her mother just disappears. Enola’s two brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, return to the family home to investigate their mother’s disappearance. Mycroft, who in this adaptation is really a bit of a dick, disapproves of Enola’s education and arranges for her to be sent to a finishing school. The thought of attending such a place pushes Enola over the edge and she runs away in the middle of the night – taking clues of her mother’s whereabouts with her. Enola knows a lot of things – but does she know how to cope in the real world?

I can’t help but see this film as a box-ticking exercise. That’s actually a good thing – let me tell you the boxes it ticks. There’s a strong female lead. The costume design is on point. There’s a slight twist I didn’t see coming. The cinematography is good. There is humour. There is action. The mix of action and humour and violence and education is perfect for the target audience.

It could easily become a franchise.

But what the film doesn’t do is over-deliver. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance fizzles out and isn’t executed to its fullest extent. There could do with being a bit more mystery. I never gasped, I rarely laughed out loud, and I didn’t come away thinking ‘you know what, that was brilliant!’

It’s just a good film. Know that you won’t be disappointed if you watch it, and you won’t be missing out much if you don’t.

331w

What I thought about: Ted Lasso

Do me a favour. Open Apple TV+, look for Ted Lasso, and hit play. This heartwarming comedy had no right to be this good on paper – or even going off the trailer. And yet, I laughed. I teared up a bit. But most of all, I just really enjoyed it.

I agree with Lasso, tea is disgusting.

What’s it about?
After helping an American football team to success in the US, Ted Lasso and his assistant coach (referred to as ‘Coach’ pretty much throughout) are drafted in to support Richmond FC, an English football team (read: soccer) who are teetering on the brink of relegation from the premier league.

Leaving aside the elephant in the room, Lasso has a unique coaching style that is centred on belief, high sprits, and bringing out the best of everyone on the team. His unorthodox approach (and aforementioned elephant) do not go down well with the people of Richmond, who give him an icy cold reception, as do most of the players in the team (at least initially).

What do I like about it?
I don’t particularly like football. I don’t particularly like shows that drop Americans in England and show the character navigating our ‘different’ ways. So by all accounts, I shouldn’t have liked this show.

In the end, it comes down to the sheer charm of the show (and Lasso). The show makes each character stand out – often going from piss-taking comic to serious and heartfelt in mere moments. You start to find yourself rooting for the show’s antagonists, not giving up on them despite their serious flaws, just like Lasso does. It’s so human.

What do I not like about it?
I’m drawing a blank here. Ted Lasso really is a gem of a show. It’s not something I obsess over, like Elite, or You, instead it’s something for everyone, in every way.

If I had to pick something out, I would say that I didn’t really get the whole divorce thing. It wasn’t quite enough to knock Lasso for more than a day or two, and his (ex) wife seemed pretty cool with him the whole time?

Worth a watch?
Isn’t it clear from the above? YES! Yes, and if you end up not liking it, please let me know because I will have some questions for you.

By the way…

  • There’s a second season on the way, and my only concern is how they will top the first one.
  • Why does Antony Head always get cast as the dickhead ex-husband? See e.g. The Inbetweeners and The Stranger.

429w

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.

381w