Plenty of gritty police drama in this lot of Staff Pick DVDs for the first few months of the year. Also featured is the adaptation of James Corey’s Expanse novels, a unique film that uses thousands of original oil paintings based on Vincent Van Gogh’s works to create an animated feature about the artist, the Italian social critique Perfect Strangers, and historical drama from books by Peter Ackroyd & Thomas Cullinan.
The expanse. Season one.
It has vastly superior production standards, it looks fabulous and is way better acted, but for many reasons ‘The Expanse’ reminds me of Babylon 5 . They both take a little while to get going but they eventually lead somewhere and once they get there they both deal with really intriguing ideas, they both contain a big secret plot device not immediately apparent for the outset and perhaps most noticeable they both contain complex Chandleresque characters. If these elements appeal to you then ‘The Expanse’ is well worth checking out. [Based on the novels by James Corey]. (Neil J.)
The sinner. Season one.
‘The Sinner’ follows a young mother (Jessica Biel) who, while on a day trip with her husband and son to a public beach, stabs a man to death has no idea why. She confesses immediately and is charged with murder, but dogged investigator (Bill Pullman) finds himself obsessed with uncovering the woman’s buried motive, and together they travel a harrowing journey into the depths of her psyche and the violent secrets hidden in her past. The story is tense and intriguing, a different and surprising take on a crime story. Biel is excellent. Based on a novel by a little translated German female crime writer. (Mark)
If you were a fan of Baywatch back in the 90s and you miss that level of action and cheese you will not be disappointed! Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zac Efron are a ridiculously hilarious combination of abs and humour that will have you shaking your head with laughter. This movie is exactly what it claims to be utterly outrageous and funny. (Jess)
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s ‘Loving Vincent’ is clearly a labour of love a seven year labour of love at that. The film is unique in that it uses thousands of original oil paintings based on Vincent Van Gogh’s works to create an animated feature about the artist. The film skilfully avoids just being a swirling, visually stunning piece of Vincent Van Gogh eye candy (which it is). By examining different perspectives on Vincent’s life from his close friends, family and colleagues and the many questions surrounding his death. (Neil J.)
Bosch. Season three.
The 3rd season of this American police-procedural adapts Michael Connelly’s novels The Black Echo and elements of A Darkness More Than Night. The story involves multiple plot lines as Bosch is involved in the upcoming trial of a wealthy movie director accused of murdering a woman during sex, as well as investigating the death of a homeless Military Vet that takes on a greater complexity. In his personal life his daughter is now living with him and, having solved his mother’s murder in the preceding season, he now struggles to contain the anger that has always fuelled him. The added characterisation of the supporting cast has strengthened the show beyond the tropes of the first season, and while there may be nothing that is really innovative about the show, or the plots, it is all so expertly acted and written (helmed by Eric Overmyer — who worked on the final two seasons of The Wire and then co-created Tremé) that it sets a new benchmark in TV Cop shows. (Mark)
The Andromeda strain.
Just recently the very welcome rerelease on DVD of the 1971 alien virus Robert Wise, Michael Crichton science fiction classic The Andromeda strain occurred. Despite its age and slightly corny 70’s fashion sense this film remains a flawlessly acted, brilliantly scripted, chillingly realised and thoroughly engaging work. And what’s more there isn’t a CGI effect anywhere to be seen as they were at that point just a glint in George Lucas’s eyes. (Neil J.)
Line of duty. Series four.
If ‘Bosch’ is currently the best US Police-procedural on TV, then ‘Line of Duty’ is certainly the best English one. An anti-corruption drama it follows the exploits of AC-12, a unit that investigates suspicious activities within the Police itself. In a career-defining case, DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton), is under intense pressure from her superiors to apprehend a serial murderer after months of fruitless investigation. When a young man is charged doubts around his guilt lead the chief forensic investigator to AC-12. Is Roz ignoring forensic evidence that might prove the young man’s innocence? As AC-12 pile on pressure from the outside, Roz is forced to act to stop her life from unravelling, but just how far will she go? Totally gripping crime drama, with Newton in top form. Highly recommended. [Note: Season 1 of this show was released in NZ, and we were able to have Season 4 cross-rated from Australia due to its lower classification Rating. However Seasons 2-3 have not been distributed for release in this country]. (Mark)
Murder on the Orient Express.
Kenneth Branagh’s recent remake of Murder on the Orient express had many admirers and made a ton of money (and is available to borrow here). However for me the 1974 Sidney Lumet version (recently rereleased ) is the definitive celluloid adaptation of this much loved classic. It features a truly Stella cast including amongst others Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Sean Connery it positively glitters with Hollywood glamour. It’s a warm, friendly, comforting, old fashioned kind of a film that reminds me of lazy Boxing day afternoons with my family. (Neil J.)
Sharing cell phone messages and calls with others doesn’t sound like a good idea but at the eclipse night, seven friends (three couples and a man whose new partner is not able to attend) agree to do it over the course of dinner party, because they are long-time best friends and have nothing to hide. Italian director Paolo Genovese’s loquacious ensemble comedy is a study of morality in the iPhone era. Inevitably their ‘secrets and lies’ are revealed one after another and their relationships are severely tested. Genovese’s clever plot, together with fantastic performances by all actors, makes it a funny yet touching, wonderfully entertaining drama. Brilliant. (Shinji)
The tunnel. Series 2, Sabotage.
The Anglo-French adaption of the Danish/Swedish series ‘The Bridge’ was the first series in British and French television to be bilingual, a collaboration of British broadcaster Sky and French broadcaster Canal+. The first season (essentially a remake of the Swedish/Danish production) is still enjoyable, if you have watched the original, due to the quality of the production and the talent of the 2 leads, Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy as British and French police detectives Karl Roebuck and Elise Wassermann.
Season 2 of ‘The Tunnel’ however is where the series diverges with a completely different storyline. Following the events of the first series, Karl & Elise are reunited to investigate the kidnapping of a small child from the Channel Tunnel train, which soon evolves into a domestic terrorist investigation after a planes autopilot system is hacked, forcing it to crash into the English Channel, killing all on board. The 3rd and final series of the show has just been completed. An overlooked show, perhaps due to the ‘remake’ nature of the first season which can’t really compete with the Swedish/Danish tour-de-force, but this is quality TV and deserves to be judged on its own merits. Recommended. (Mark)
The Limehouse Golem.
There is no sign of restraint in Juan Carlos Medina’s adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s fantastic book Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. This is a lurid, melodramatic and gory retelling of this Victorian, gothic, murder, mystery tale. If however you are a fan of the theatrical bloody period piece epitomised by some of the best Hammer Horror films, or enjoyed the more recent Crimson Peak then there is much to be enjoyed here in this Grand Guignol over the top production. (Neil J.)
During the American Civil War, a wounded Union Army corporal is brought to the seminary for young ladies in the enemy territory Virginia, leading to sexual tension and crushes. Sofia Coppola’s latest work is a Civil War setting period drama based on Thomas Cullinan’s novel, and it’s a subtle study of shifting the power balance in a closed environment. Although it’s bleak and rather atmospheric, Coppola still offers her characteristic aesthetic; gorgeous – if Vogue featured ‘Southern Gothic’ it would be like this – production design, costume and camerawork elegantly using both natural and artificial lights, with a starry cast (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell). This is Coppola’s most low-key work but it proves that she is one of the best American auteurs today. (Shinji)
Cardinal. The complete first season.
Another strong police-procedural, this one differentiated by its setting of Algonquin Bay in rural Ontario, Canada. This six episode Canadian TV crime drama is an adaptation of Giles Blunt’s award winning novel Forty Words for Sorrow, the first entry in his series about Police Detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme. Demoted Detective John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) is brought back into Homicide when the hunch he wouldn’t let go is proven correct, and a young Native American girl is found encased in ice. Now, as he relentlessly tracks a serial killer who preys on missing young people he must keep a watchful eye on his new partner, Detective Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse), who he believes may have a secret agenda that leads back to one of his past cases, while coping with his wife being institutionalised after a bi-polar episode. Atmospheric, intense and intriguing. Definitely something different. Recommended. (Mark)