You Again?

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A couple of nights ago, my husband and I watched the 2013 film Enemy on Netflix, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. I was curious because Gyllenhaal is always interesting to watch, and because Villeneuve has, of course, gone on to direct Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, both of which I liked. While Enemy is compelling and artfully made, I can only recommend it if you like creepy, dread-filled head-scratchers, and if you do not have a fear of spiders.

Gyllenhaal plays a morose college professor who discovers a bit-part actor who is his doppelganger, and he begins to pry into the other man’s life. Mayhem, and some other bewildering things, ensue, including a few scenes where tarantulas play a key role. The film is effectively unsettling, shot in a sepia tone that gives Toronto (where it was shot) a sickly yellow cast, and with an unnerving score that creates a strong sense of foreboding.  The final scene is utterly baffling.

Are the professor and the actor brothers? The same man? Who knows. If you watch Enemy and want some answers — and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want some answers! — here’s an interesting theory from Slate, and here’s one from Vulture

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A film with a similar theme, which I enjoyed more, is The Double, also released in 2013 (hmm, what was it about doppelgangers in 2013?) and based on a story by Dostoevsky, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, and Wallace Shawn. There is some comedy, albeit dark comedy, in this story of a meek government clerk whose drab life becomes a nightmare with the arrival of a confident, charismatic new co-worker who is his exact physical double. This isn’t on Netflix anymore, but it’s available a bunch of other places. If you like absurdist black comedy and Jesse Eisenberg, it could be just your thing.

The Colonel: There aren’t too many like you. Are there, Simon?

Simon: I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.

— The Double

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The Tunnel

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Last night I finished watching the final season of a British/French crime thriller called The TunnelI recommend it, but with some reservations.

There are three seasons of The Tunnel, all of which aired on PBS and are available on the PBS streaming app (possibly only if you are a member of your local PBS station and have their Passport feature), as well as other streaming vendors. The first season was a remake of a 2011 Danish-Swedish crime series called The Bridge. The second season, The Tunnel: Sabotage, and the third, The Tunnel: Vengeance, are original stories.

The primary reason to watch the series is for some superior acting from the two leads: English actor Stephen Dillane as Detective Chief Inspector Karl Roebuck, based in Folkestone, and Clémence Poésy as Captain (later Commander) Elise Wassermann, based in Calais. Dillane is the relaxed, wisecracking, seasoned detective to Poésy’s serious, single-minded, less-experienced crime fighter. Elise also exhibits traits that indicate she might have Asperger’s syndrome — she’s highly intelligent with a great eye for detail, but she’s hopeless at interpreting social cues and dealing with other people’s emotions.

The two are thrown together in the first season when someone places the upper half of a French politician and the lower half of a British prostitute in the Channel Tunnel at the halfway point between the UK and France. The tale is off and running from there, with our two protagonists and their teams collaborating willingly at times and clashing at others. The show is bilingual, which gives me a chance to try and use my high-school and college French, and I love seeing a glimpse of how people in those areas of England and France live. The British and the French detectives needle each other, each taking turns getting in their digs at the other country’s culture, and the third season, filmed after the Brexit vote, works in some gibes from both sides about the UK leaving the EU.

International issues and politics permeate the storylines, which involve elaborate, even baroque crimes devised by villains who have plenty of time and resources on their hands. The series is quite gritty, and there are downright heartbreaking events that occur in each season — that’s my reservation about recommending it. But if you enjoy seeing two well-matched actors play characters whose sparring relationship grows into a deep friendship, look no further. I was especially taken with Dillane, who was a new face to me, even though he has a long history on British stage and screen (and evidently plays a role on Game of Thrones, which I’ve never seen). He’s been called an “actor’s actor,” and that’s exactly right — he’s completely comfortable in his own skin, and reveals Karl’s inner workings with the subtlest expressions.

If you watch it, come back and let me know what you thought!

Elise Wassermann: I can’t eat anything sweet until I get my tooth fixed.

Karl Roebuck: What’s wrong with your tooth? Did you bite somebody?

— The Tunnel: Vengeance

Three Identical Strangers

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Photo courtesy of Neon

Dash out and see the fascinating and moving Three Identical Strangers as soon as you can, before you’ve heard a lot about it. It would be criminal to reveal too much, but suffice to say it’s a documentary about Eddy Galland, David Kellman, and Bobby Shafran, identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by different families. They discovered each other in 1980, when Eddy and Bobby went to the same college in upstate New York. Eddy went one year, and the next year, when Bobby arrived as a freshman, he was startled to be greeted by complete strangers as an old friend. The two boys met, and the media picked up on the incredible feel-good story. Soon the third triplet, David, saw his own face on two strangers grinning at him from a newspaper, and he got in touch. As one of the adoptive mothers said, “They’re coming out of the woodwork!” The three boys became instant and inseparable soulmates.

All the above happens in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the film, with the help of some re-enactments (I’m not usually a fan of re-enactments in a documentary, but these are minimal and unobtrusive). After that, as one family friend says, things “kinda got funky.” The rest of the narrative is told through interviews with the brothers, their loved ones, and other key players, supplemented with terrific archival photos and video footage. The plot thickens, twists, and twists a few more times, right up to the end, so strap on your seat belt, and maybe bring a hankie.

Bobby Shafran: This is like Nazi sh**.

—  Three Identical Strangers

La Mante

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Here’s the reason you might want to watch the French crime series La Mante, now streaming on Netflix: Carole Bouquet. Who, you may rightly ask? I had only vague memories of her as a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only in 1981. But she’s worked steadily in France over the years, and in La Mante (French for The Mantis, as in praying mantis), she plays an imprisoned serial killer who agrees to help her estranged son, a cop, catch a murderer who is copying her methods. Bouquet is riveting.

The Mantis was active 25 years prior in the series’ narrative, killing men who were guilty of despicable behavior. Her father and son have had nothing to do with her since she was captured and incarcerated. As he works with her to solve the copycat murders, her son uncovers secrets about his family’s past. Bouquet is, by turns, calm, devious, clever, calculating, ice-cold, and heartbreaking. In 1990, she won the French equivalent of the Oscar, a César Award, for best actress for her role in Too Beautiful for You, which I’ll now want to watch.

There are scenes that are not for the faint of heart (Stephen King lauded the series on Twitter, saying it “is surveying previously unexplored realms of gruesomeness”), so if you’re like me, have a pillow handy to hide behind from time to time. (Just like in the header photo for this blog! If you’ve wondered about that photo, the explanation is in my first blog post.)

Requiem

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I’m still on a British and European kick with my Netflix viewing, and one of my recent favorites is a British series called Requiem. It combines elements of both a ghost story and a thriller, and while it can be a bit over-the-top and implausible here and there, I found it quite compelling overall.

It stars Lydia Wilson as Matilda Grey, a professional cellist whose life is upended when her mother commits suicide right in front of her. Photos and newspaper clippings Matilda finds among her mother’s possessions spark questions about Matilda’s past and her true identity. The series is set in Wales — lovely and atmospheric — and has a haunting score that features an organ, of all things. Should sound cheesy, but it really works.

The series is not overly gory, and if you enjoy supernatural chills, it’s got plenty. It even incorporates some actual history in the form of references to an Englishman named John Dee, who was a mathematician, alchemist, astrologer, dabbler in the occult, and an adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. My only real problem with the series was Lydia Wilson’s hair — she’s wearing either a bad blonde wig or a bad blonde haircut with bangs that are just too short. I hope for her sake that it was a wig.

Meredith: Waste of a question. Ask again.

Requiem

Wild Wild Country

 

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Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers in India. Photo: Netflix.

One of my guilty pleasures is the true crime documentary, and some excellent examples of the genre recently have been Making a Murderer, The Keepers, and Wormwood (all streaming on Netflix). Wild Wild Country is not true crime per se; it’s more a historical documentary series, but there are certainly some crimes mixed in with the history. It is absolutely fascinating. Although the fairly shocking events that form the series’ focus happened in my lifetime, in the early 1980s, I don’t remember hearing a thing about them. I’ll chalk that up to being a self-absorbed teenager who wasn’t paying attention to anything outside her own life yet. If you, too, were alive but oblivious — or if you’re too young to have heard the story of the Rolls Royce guru and his followers — do yourself a favor: stay away from Google and set aside some viewing time.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an Indian guru who had started an ashram in Poona, India, in the 1970s. After running afoul of Indian authorities, he moved his operation to rural Oregon. There, with the help of his fearless right-hand woman, a force of nature named Ma Anand Sheela, his movement attracted more followers, built a city, and managed to get involved in power struggles over land use and autonomy that escalated to the point where the feds got interested.

I’ll leave the recap there, because I don’t want to give any spoilers. The series has its drawbacks: if you want context about Rajneesh and his movement, you’ll need to consult the Internet, but do so after watching. The series tries very hard not to play favorites or cast anyone as the villain — a choice that’s commendable for its objectivity, but perhaps a bit irresponsible. I’ll let you decide.

And Caleb Blood, if you’re reading this: I think the music is really good. It’s by someone named Brocker Way. Check it out.

Ma Anand Sheela: I have been accused of a laundry list of heinous crimes — of course, all of them attempted. Normally, I succeed in what I do. That is a joke.

— Wild Wild Country

The Germans Are Coming, the Germans Are Coming! (And the French)

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I don’t know what’s in the water over in Germany these days, but they’re cranking out some great television. I’ve recently enjoyed both Dark and Babylon Berlin on Netflix, and I’m looking forward to Deutschland 83 on Netflix discsAnother recent favorite, also on Netflix, is The Chalet, a French mystery/thriller.

Dark is a mind-bending tale of a German town where children keep disappearing. Yes, the series does employ that time-honored sci-fi trope, time travel, but the filmmakers use it to create a compelling story that builds suspense as you try to figure out the twisted relationships between four families in the town.

Babylon Berlin grabs you right away with a trippy opening-credits sequence and arresting music. It’s set in the Berlin of the wild and woolly Weimar Republic, between the world wars, and follows the misadventures of police inspector Gereon Rath and his resourceful sidekick, Charlotte Ritter. Based on novels that strive for historical accuracy, the series is the most expensive non-English-language TV drama series yet, costing nearly $40 million. It’s a riveting mystery/drama with wonderful performances.

You do need to suspend disbelief to enjoy The Chalet — think too hard about the plot and you’ll notice the implausible bits. (Actually, you need to do that to some extent with all three of these shows. Good thing my disbelief is easily suspended.) In The Chalet, a group of friends reunite at a chalet in a remote town in the French Alps for a summer wedding. Before long, it becomes clear that they’re being hunted, one by one, and we learn of the town’s dark secret.

Fritz: Mass executions are a legitimate tool of the revolution. Expropriation, too, by the way.

Otto: Says who? Hitler?

Fritz: Lenin.

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