Paranoid: A Slow Boil (Review)

Screenshot from Paranoid

Paranoid is a crime series set in Cheshire that uses a “softly softly” approach in its pacing. This is a slow boil but the pacing allows the show to present some interesting characters with a lot of depth.   It comes from the same chap who brought us the  2009 The Prisoner re-imagining; Bill Gallagher.

The eight part series, which aired on Netflix in September, has a lot of familiar faces. From Shobna Gulati from Coronation Street and Dinner Ladies as the physician treating Detective Bobby Day (Robert Glenister) to Indira Varma as Nina and the splendid Lesley Sharp as Lucy Cannonbury.

A woman is stabbed to death in broad daylight in the play area of a park. Quick thinking Lucy grabs the victim’s child and saves him.   As the detectives question witnesses and Lucy, a “ghost” detective begins his own investigation.

Lucy and a number of other witnesses are approached by Detective “Galen.”  The dead woman’s father; Eric Benton (played by John Duttine) reveals that her ex husband is an American who lives in Germany.

The cast of characters are an interesting lot. Nina has just been dumped by her boyfriend of four and a half years. Alec, her partner at work (played by Dino Fetscher) gives her a shoulder to lean on and Bobby, the senior detective of the group seems to be suffering from severe anxiety. 

Nina is an abrasive and over the top detective that would drive anyone mad who had to spend any amount of time with her. Presumably in her long relationship she was a bit calmer.

Bobby feels like he is one step from a breakdown and he is drawn to their main witness, Lucy.  The detectives contact a German colleague; Det. Linda Felber (Christiane Paul) and ask her to  hunt down the victim’s ex.

The detectives ask Linda to inform the victim’s ex about her death and to find out anything else about the man. Ferber goes to hunt the man down and she finds his dead body floating in an indoor pool.

Bobby is sent a DVD from the “ghost detective.” The footage on the recording is of him.

This Studio Canal production seems to be taking a leaf from the Brit crime thriller River; offering up cops with a full set of issues.  Like the BBC drama, the police are as interesting as the crime they are investigating.

Lesley Sharp, who won two Best Actress Awards for the 2005 drama Afterlife (which also starred a pre The Walking Dead’s  Andrew Lincoln) manages to command every single scene she is in. .

Game of Thrones actress Varma gives a complex performance portraying a woman who is annoying as hell one moment and then softly vulnerable the next. Her character is also, it seems, a pretty good cop.

The added device of the ghost detective makes for a complex storyline but it is the impending meltdown of Bobby that grabs the viewers attention.  Like River, Paranoid moves at a languid pace but this allows for a depth of character its story to be solidly revealed.

This may not be a quaint and twee British drawing room mystery but it offers up a puzzle that will, or will not, be solved by detectives who feel real. These cops are damaged people who have a job to do and their issues make it all the more interesting.

It looks like the detectives in Paranoid will be following clues across Europe.

Paranoid is streaming on Netflix. Head over and check this British mystery out.

Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee – The Root of All Evil (Review)

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Nanette Burstein  (who has a number of documentaries under her belt including the 2002 film “The Kid Stays in the Picture” which was a close look at coke head film producer Robert Evans) takes on John McAfee. Burstein does a good job peeling back the multiple layers of B.S. that surrounds the software tycoon and megalomaniac.

“The Dangerous Life of John McAfee” is a bit of a misnomer, although the film’s title could be seen as a skewed accusation.  For a man suspected of two murders and at least one chemically coerced rape, it seems life is more dangerous for those around the father of anti-virus software than for McAfee himself.

Documentary director Burstein plots the rise and increasingly odd behavior of McAfee.  From his forced buy out from the company that bore his name to his eventual migration to Belize. Once there McAfee wasted no time building a personal army of security guards and buying off the local police.

Watching the Showtime documentary it is clear that McAfee is, at times, beyond eccentric.  Several of the people interviewed by Bernstein come out and say the man is “batch*t crazy.” While in Belize, the software mogul definitely appeared to be delusional.

After his brief term as a yoga master, which, incidentally, appeared to be focussed on sex, McAfee moves to Belize. Apart from his armed bodyguards and accumulation of girlfriends and hookers, McAfee seems to  have believed he could replicate the 1992 Sean Connery film Medicine Man. 

Hiring a Harvard graduate to turn plants into medicine, McAfee spent his time granting interviews about a nonexistent products and looking for investors.

Later he was believed responsible for the deaths of two men in the area and the Harvard grad has accused him of rape. That John McAfee suffers from megalomania is apparent from his email correspondence with Bernstein and his threats.

The documentary speaks with a vast number of people in Belize, including the man thought to be responsible for carrying out the killing of McAfee’s next door neighbor.

By the end of the film, the subject of the documentary does not come off very well.  Overall it is a story of a visionary whose brief time in the spotlight paid over the odds and gave him a taste for the spotlight. McAfee took his payoff and “lived large” in several different places.

The former software genius seems to have lost that visionary capability and has replaced it with sordid desires and an accumulation of power.  McAfee is also the embodiment of a modern day flimflam man, aka an entrepreneur.

Almost as an afterthought, the film points out that his home  was raided by the police looking for manufactured drugs.

It is revealed that the suspected meth was in fact something else. Reading other articles about McAfee and his flight from Belize to escape questioning and possible conviction for murder, it is clear that Bernstein wanted to focus on the homicides and not the alleged drug dealing.

Vice Gaming, whose reporter inadvertently caused McAfee’s arrest in Guatemala, mentions the sexual obsession side of the man. Their article focusses on bath salts, as a sex aid, and McAfee’s orgies. They also talk about his interest in scat.

The Showtime documentary leaves all that alone. Bernstein is interested in John’s two alleged murders and his other off the wall antics. One of which happened to be his bid for the white house.

(On a sidenote, it would not be surprising to learn that McAfee and Donald Trump are actually huge pals.)

It is interesting to note that a man with so much money responds with threats of violence and disturbing innuendos to Bernstein’s documentary. Rather than take legal action, that the man could clearly afford, he  opts for threats.

The documentary actually does a good job showing just how delusional and dangerous McAfee is.  While the man is not in Belize any longer he still has enough money to cause problems in this country as well.

Fortune reports that McAfee is fighting back against the documentary. Like everything else on file about the man, it appears to be a form of  self aggrandizement. His version of events makes him a  victim of the press and Showtime in particular.

Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee is steaming on Showtime. Stop by and check this documentary out.  Watch this take on an “ugly American” who built his own gang in Belize. McAfee comes across as the root of all evil in this film and not just because of the fortune lining his coffers.

This documentary proves that money may not be able to  buy happiness but it can pay for the murder of two people in another country.

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Amsterdamned (1988): Still Quite a Thriller (Review)

Monique Van De Ven and Huub Staple

Amsterdamned is a taut thriller written and directed by Dick Maas and starring Huub Stapel  and Monique van de Ven (who starred with a young Rutger Hauer in the 1973 cult classic film Turkish Delight).   Maas as a director made films that looked polished and suitable for marketing in the United States, indeed, world-wide and Amsterdamned was no exception. The film is still quite good and having aged exceedingly well provides a number of solid scares.

The story of a serial killer who haunted the canals in Amsterdam was actually edge of the seat viewing when the film came out. I watched the Dutch video when it was released in 1989, sans subtitles, and only catching around every other word, it had me watching the scarier bits through my fingers.

Huub Stapel is Eric Visser who is a single parent raising his daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet). Eric is also a more than capable detective on the Amsterdam police force.  A prostitute is murdered along a canal in the capital. Her body is strung upside down from a low-water bridge. The bloody body is drug across the glass top of a scenic boat full of tourists and school children.  

This traumatizing event is the start of a string of bodies left in and around the canals. Eric must catch the killer before he is taken off the case. Along the way he meets and romances Laura (van de Ven) a tour guide at a local museum.

Amsterdamned  is dark, tense and damned scary in places. There is an underwater scene in a sunken canal boat that will make you jump and the action is well choreographed and pretty thrilling.  There are plenty of twists and turns and this police drama is more horror than suspenseful thriller.

Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam will know that the canals are full of rubbish, until they have been dredged, and bacteria that can make the hapless person who falls in very ill.  The same world traveler will recognize that some of the excellent boat chase stunts took place in Utrecht and not Amsterdam. The cafe settings are much closer to the canal than any in the country’s capital city.

Maas sets the scenes very well and manages to make the film scream by in terms of pacing. At almost two hours long the film should have a few slow spots but does not.  Even the scenes with Eric’s daughter and her “boyfriend” (which do feel a tad like filler) do not detract from the storyline. One scene, in fact, has  a lovely fillip to the proceedings that is impressive and chill inspiring.

For  a “slasher” serial killer film, there is a surprising lack of gore.  Certainly there are the odd limbs scattered here and there and, apart from the murdered prostitute at the start,  not much in the way of claret.

In many ways the film feels like a homage to every American detective movie made in the 1980s. Most of the detectives wear leather jackets and the music is evocative of most crime  films that featured heavy police work and a high body count.

It should be noted that Huub Stapel worked with Maas on the 1986 film Flodder  and its first sequel Flodder in America!.

Amsterdamned is still cracking cinema that delivers as much of a punch now as it did in 1988.  This horror/thriller continues to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat and provides enough scares to impress.

This is a 5 star film. The special effects are quite good for the time and the tight direction, excellent cast and the taut/scary storyline makes for an almost perfect film.  It can be seen on YouTube, in its entirety, with English subtitles.

Between: Love Hurts (Recap/Review)

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The latest episode of Between, number four actually, was titled Love Hurts, it could have been called Lonely at the Top, as Chuck learns to his chagrin by the end of the show. The segment this week was all about making bad decisions or making friends with the wrong people. Wiley, learns that hooking up with Ronnie was a very bad idea when their “hunting trip” turns into an attack and almost being raped.

The new mother gasps out that the whole town “knows you’re not right in the head and raping a girl is the only way you’ll get one.” When he starts to punch the girl in the face, his sister comes up and knocks him out with a shovel. Ronnie learns the hard way that his version of “wooing” a girl is not the right one.

Before Wiley’s close call, two young lads steal a car from Chuck’s dad’s car lot for a joy ride. The instigator, a little beanie wearing case of attitude, wrecks the car and Chuck’s cops have to chase the two down. As punishment the mouthy lad, who was the one who stole the car, is strapped to the town flagpole in the freezing cold. When his friend calls Chuck back because the beanie-boy is shivering, the rich kid gets a face full of spit from the recalcitrant little thief.

Adam has not given up on investigating the death of Chuck’s sister Lana. He finds evidence that points to Ronnie’s big brother, Pat. He then learns from his only suspect that not only was Chuck’s sister supplying Ronnie with drugs to sell, but she was in the middle of killing herself when Pat tried to stop her.

Chuck, who has leaned that Pat might have been responsible tries to corner him in the bowling alley, guns blazing. Adam stops the rich kid and hands him Lana’s suicide note.

Ms. Sullivan, who dreams about her birthday and the death of her fiancee spends the actual day away from the school. She helps Wiley’s sister, who is the only one running the town creche and in the process upsets the devoutly Christian girl by letting the kids play in, and mess up, the church. Later she goes to the bar with Adam to split a pitcher of beer.

The little car thief almost dies from insulin shock while being tied up and Chuck feels bad. On top of learning that his sister killed herself, he does feel pretty isolated as the self-proclaimed leader of law and order in Pretty Lake. Mark makes a deal to run the bar with Chuck’s former girlfriend and he insists that they should serve beer to little kids.

When Chuck shows up, Mark lies saying it was her idea. As the “legal” customers who are left sit in the dark candle lit bar, the electricity comes back on. At the same time the lights come back, Mark is captured by the female prison officer and Ms. Summers dies, blood running from her mouth.

These two events open up possibilities. Viewers now have to wonder just what the prison guard’s role is in the deaths of Pretty Lake’s grown ups as she enlists Mark’s help and tells him that freedom is his only by acting as her eyes and ears. The second incident, the teacher’s death, seems like it could be linked to the power coming back on.

Between as a series seems to be as doomed as the older denizens of Pretty Lake. In Love Hurts, it is not just the over 22 year-old residents who are dying, but those who can act. So far the show has specialized in casting kids who would have trouble channeling their way out of a paper bag.

Jennette McCurdy is most likely counting herself lucky that the show does not really revolve around her too much. Despite the twists and turns of the plot, the show is not overly convincing in either plot or acting. This one can be considered a miss, not even passible as children’s telly.

Between Episode 3: Here There be Tygers

Between Tumblr page headerThe third episode of Between, titled Crossing Lines, could just as easily been called Here There be Tygers. Since the Stephen King short story has to do with school children and fear of the unknown, also a tiger, and the opening sequence of this week’s show features a “man” eating tiger. Of course the brilliant shot of the youngster’s blood stained shoe was never beaten in the rest of the episode or the series for that matter, but the feline predator does make an appearance later on in this show.

This week has Chuck gunning for Ronnie, literally, since he believes that Lana was murdered by the drug pusher of Pretty Lake. It also has a contrite, at first, Wiley thanking Adam for saving her life. This feeling of gratitude does not last long and changes to anger when, saving her life once again, Adam inadvertently blows up the girl’s money.

The kids of the quarantined town have learned that burning the bodies got them nothing but video coverage on the news. The Prime Minister shows the footage and then reveals that there is something in the air at Pretty Lake so, despite the promise made last week, the fence will stay up. Not long after this announcement the power goes out.

Meanwhile Ronnie asks Stacey, who is having an affair with him, to tell her boyfriend Chuck that he did not kill Lana as he was with her when it happened. She refuses at first and then relents. The two head to town and the second they see Chuck, and his armed goons, she hits Ronnie and lies to Chuck.

Back at the farm, Frannie has been left to milk and feed the cattle on her own. Gord leaves to stop Chuck from killing Ronnie. In a stand-off at the Creeker’s residence, the power is cut and Chuck’s boys all begin firing. Gord is hit and ends up staying in town overnight. The tiger finds its way to the farm and Frannie. She has a life and death confrontation with the animal and emerges the winner.

Adam and Wiley decide to cut the fence and escape now that the power is off. Finding a section with no guards, he makes an opening and they crawl through. Spotting a sign that warns of a minefield, the two stop. She wants to chance it and Adam throws Wiley’s backpack into the field. The instant the bag hits the ground it explodes in a shower of damaged money.

By the end of the episode, Adam and Wiley have gone their separate ways and Chuck has jettisoned his cheating, lying girlfriend. Amanda fesses up to setting the supermarket on fire and Mark finally shows up, driving a beer truck and declaring that he is Santa Claus.

Since Ronnie has been cleared of Lana’s murder, it will surely be only a matter of time before accusatory fingers begin pointing Merk’s way. Wiley has decided to grab the baby and leave her older sister to look after the other children. In a way, the title of Crossing Lines is quite apt. Everyone, it seems, spent the entire episode crossing those boundaries that should be left alone. Although the tiger allegory is also omnipresent in show as well.

It should be mentioned that the best bits of the show were the ones with the tiger in. Especially the battle between the animal and Frances.

There really has not been a whole lot of improvement overall and the show may never make it to a second season. None of the characters are that likable so far and as pointed out before the story has not been set up very well. Still, this is one of those shows that fits the bill if there is absolutely nothing else on the telly.

5 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith