Streaming Now: Conspiracy Politics, Crime Fiction, a Police Procedural, and a Series From the Director of 'Casablanca'
The streaming selections today hail from Hungary, from Australia, and two from England
The selections today range from a tribute to the man who directed a film classic, to a political conspiracy thriller from Oz-tralia, to two quality productions that come from the BBC. All four are available for streaming on Netflix.
Curtiz (Netflix, from Hungary)
The Hungarian emigre Michael Curtiz worked in Hollywood in the 1930s & 40s, nominated for Oscars for several films, and winning Best Director for the classic Casablanca. This film is a biopic that’s lovingly created by his home country, and chronicles the behind-the-scenes of the filming of that 1942 all-time favorite. Gorgeously shot in black and white on what has to be considered a small budget, it echoes the atmosphere and feel of the era, and should hold interest for the many diehard fans of the film.
And I say diehard with emphasis; as unlike Hitchcock which basically gave us the same treatment of Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) directing Psycho, Curtiz is big on ambiance and spirit, but is badly in need of a sustained screenplay to hold our interest. A notorious womanizer, ruling his set like Machiavelli; there should have been more to the story than merely repeatedly telling us about the problems Curtiz encountered bringing his film to life. This one is well-intentioned; but runs on for far too long.
Secret City (Netflix, and FOXTEL Australia)
Interlocked conspiracies and cover-ups, an investigative journalist, and political figures pushing their own agendas; there’s a lot happening in the two seasons of Secret City. Set in the Australian capital of Canberra, this carries the DNA of the best films and TV series we’ve enjoyed about Washington DC. It’s smartly written, tackles contemporary issues, and offers density and texture we don’t often see in mainstream television.
Harriet Dunkley (Anna Torv, who resembles Cate Blanchett) is our guide to this morass of failed scruples, low principles, and ulterior motives. The first season has the stronger storyline, with Attorney-General Catriona Bailey (the always excellent Jacki Weaver) butting heads with Malcolm Paxton (Daniel Wyllie), the Minister for Defense. A recurring theme is how Australia is caught in between the superpowers of the United States and China. A gripping series that should satisfy anyone who’s a conspiracy theorist.
Giri/Haji (Netflix, and BBC)
If you’re in the hunt for a crime fiction limited series that excels at being different. Giri (Duty)/Haji (Shame) is the ticket. Written and created by Joe Barton, it’s got a strong cross-cultural slant as it flits between Tokyo and London, following one brother, Kenzo (Takehiro Hira) who’s a Tokyo police detective, and his younger brother Yuto (Yösuke Kobuzuka), a disgraced Yazuka hit man, who’s fled to London, but still creating ripples in his hometown.
It’s innovative in execution; at one point utilizing animation, using ‘old school’ split screens, and in the final episode, a completely unexpected choreographed dance interlude. Kelly Macdonald, the Scottish actress, probably best known for voicing Merida in Brave, is the best known cast member, portraying a London detective—but be ready to be impressed by the entire ensemble. This one dares to be unconventional, and succeeds; and the cultural hybrid flows, unlike say, Jared Leto’s The Outsider.
Collateral (Netflix, and BBC)
Written and created by the highly-regarded David Hare, Collateral is a 4-episode limited series that on the surface, is a police procedural; but has aspirations of an higher order. From the murder of a regular pizza delivery boy, Hare weaves an illuminating tapestry that takes on Britain’s immigration policies, it’s stand on refugees, and their political and social implications. As such, it’s a State of the Nation snapshot that leaves much food for thought.
The Government, the Church, the military; Collateral explores the linkages these institutions have to civic society, and everyday life. Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) is at the center of the investigation; and her dogged determination to avoid a miscarriage of justice makes for compelling TV viewing. Much more than a regular detective series, this one is heavy on the social commentary—it’s only weakness is that it raises so many important questions, but doesn’t readily provide answers or solutions.