Review: Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde could definitely become a franchise like the James Bond or Jason Bourne movies everyone keeps comparing it with. Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton is smart, tough, relentless, cool, stylish, resourceful, beautiful, deadly, and really good at the spy game. Continue reading “Review: Atomic Blonde”

River: A British Mystery Series with Nicola Walker

River originated on BBC One. Immediately after the last episode aired in Britain, it was imported to America on Netflix as a Netflix Original. It stars Stellan Skarsgård as John River, a cop trying to solve the murder of his former partner Stevie Stevenson. Nicola Walker plays the dead partner and appears to River frequently as he tries to understand the who and why in her case.

The series was beautifully written by Abi Morgan. Minor spoilers ahead.

NIcola Walker in River
River frequently talks with Stevie while in his car. She goads him on constantly.

Stevie isn’t the only person who appears to River. He frequently sees dead people. Many of his best clues and leads come from these otherworldly conversations. On the other hand, one of his darkest demons is a dead serial killer played with delicious torment by Eddie Marsan.

His new partner Ira King (Adeel Akhtar) tries to cover for River’s strange behavior as best he can and gradually learns to respect River’s brilliance as an investigator. He even comes to understand and respect River’s madness.

Nicola Walker, Stellan Skarsgård and Georgina Rich in River
Nicola Walker, Stellan Skarsgård and Georgina Rich in River. Rich plays River’s shrink Rosa.

River is forced to attend sessions with the police shrink, Rosa Fallows (Georgina Rich). After silent and aborted sessions, he decides to trust her. She then begins the painful work of trying to draw him out.

Lesley Manville plays River’s immediate superior Chrissie Read. River has a long and significant history with Chrissie and her family.

Stellan Skarsgård in River
River is a depressed, unbalanced man with numerous personal demons. The mood is enhanced by the blue tone you see in this image.

The series is dark and moody. Each episode reveals new secrets about River and about Stevie. Learning the truth about her upsets River almost as much as her murder. Twists and surprises enter into every episode as River pieces his case together and the web of people involved grows.

Skarsgård’s performance as the dark and troubled cop is absolute perfection. His stillness, his visions, his fake good nature when he pretends to be normal, his fears and his memories play brilliantly.

She’s not the real Stevie; she’s River’s Stevie.Nicola Walker, too, is fantastic as the slowly revealed Stevie. It’s interesting that she’s playing Stevie as manifested by River. She’s not the real Stevie; she’s River’s Stevie. She’s the light to his dark. She’s the song, the laugh, the reminder to behave like a normal person, to love like a normal person. Walker’s expressive face and her penetrating blue eyes are both used to excellent effect here.

River’s realization that Stevie had a secret purpose is masterfully uncovered. He won’t stop until he unravels the mystery of Stevie’s death. Even when he sees the lives of the people unraveling around him, people he cares about – people Stevie cared about, he keeps looking for the truth.

When River finally faces his truth about Stevie and his grief over losing her we see a beautiful and joyful scene. Not the mournful sobbing of a broken man, but a celebration of wonder and love. It was a lovely finale.

I appreciated the surprises as each episode twists and turns through more and more of the story. I appreciated the parallels between River’s life and Stevie’s life. Part of the storyline deals with immigration. We are living through a world-wise crisis over immigrants and refugees right now, making the plot highly relevant.

If you are a fan of noir mysteries with devilish plot twists I think you’ll enjoy the 6 episodes of River.

Watch the trailer for River.

Ray Donovan is a Wow!

I’ve never liked Jon Voight. I don’t have a good reason, he’s just never done anything for me. Of course I’ve seen him in a lot of things – there’s no avoiding the man. But, wow, he found the vehicle of a lifetime in Ray Donovan on Showtime. He is so perfectly Mickey Donovan – his walk, his tone of voice, his expressions, his questionable sincerity – his entire being is flawless in this part.

I, who would never see anything simply because Jon Voight was it in, am telling you to see this if you can because of Jon Voight. If you don’t have Showtime, file it away as a must watch on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu or someplace like that in the future.

The series is currently nearing the end of season 1. Here’s the trailer.

Voight aside, the entire cast is exceptionally good at creating the gritty and steamy world of Ray Donovan.

The title character Ray is played by Liev Schreiber. He’s an Olivia Pope from Scandal fixer sort of guy, except he uses violence more than cunning to do his job. Ray takes care of the illegal and misguided antics of the rich folks in L.A. while Olivia is keeping D.C. running smoothly.

Liev Schreiber
Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan

Ray is a family man, as his father Mickey is attempting to be on his return from 20 years in prison. But Ray keeps his family in the dark about his less than admirable work life. This is a source of conflict with his wife (ably played by Paula Malcomson) and his two kids (played by Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby). Ray is close to his brothers, Terry (Eddie Marsan) and Bunchy (Dash Mihok). As the story gets underway, Ray learns that he has a African-American half-brother, who serves to help push the plot line involving Mickey’s devotion to black women and their asses. (Mickey definitely knows what twerking is.) The half brother, played by Pooch Hall – a boxer in real life –  has been hanging around the boxing gym Terry runs. Terry and Bunchy both knew about the relationship for years, a fact that does not sit well with Ray.

That’s as far as family love goes with Ray. He hates Mickey for reasons that haven’t been fully explained yet. He doesn’t want his father near his own family or hanging around with his brothers – both things Mickey immediately does on getting home from prison.

The series is a rich drama with lots of stories intertwining from a past full of secrets and lies as well as Ray’s present unsavory work. Worthy of special mention as supporting players are Kerris Dorsey (you may remember her from Brothers and Sisters) as the teen-aged daughter, Katherine Moennig (from The L Word) as one of Ray’s assistants, Elliott Gould as a business partner hiding secrets from the past while quietly going cuckoo, and Paula Malcomson as Ray’s wife.

A woman, Ann Biderman, is the series creator and writer. This matters to me.

Showtime will let you watch episode 1 for free. I urge you to take advantage of the offer.

All images property of Showtime.