Netflix Fun: Department Q: Keeper of Lost Causes

Ever since the Dragon Tattoo made its mark on the world—no pun—there’s been an explosion of mystery books, movies, and TV shows from Scandinavia. I think I’ll call it EuroNoir, when you add in the new waves from Germany and France.

Great, another brooding damaged cop. He’s great with facts and conjecture, not so much with people. I’d make a sarcastic remark about that being new, but why bother?
The plot is both difficult and, ultimately, ingenious. It’s hard to believe there are people crazy enough to plot such an elaborate revenge after so many years, especially over something that happened as a child, but then this villain was clearly never in his right mind. On the other hand, he did have a clear view of what killed his parents, and I have to believe the cause of the crash could have been written better; even a little girl couldn’t have been so dumb, and how come she wasn’t wearing a seat belt?
As I will mention more below in the directing section, the opening scene, involving a shootout, was all kinds of wrong. The three cops deliberately do not wait for the backup they know is coming. Once inside they find a dead body and put away their weapons. I was actually shouting at the screen, “You haven’t cleared the building yet!” and a second later guess what happens.
There isn’t all that much that’s funny here, but at the same time it wasn’t nearly as dark as I thought it would be, especially considering the first part and the hostage situation.

There’s a big fail at the very beginning: the shootout is simply not well done, in that you can’t tell who gets shot—other than the bald guy—or where they come from. At first I thought it was the main character who caught the bullet in the head, but even had he survived that he didn’t have a scar after that. More to the point, I should not have had to wonder.
But props are deserved for the shots in the pressure chamber. It would be a pun to call it atmospheric, but even if the interior views were not done inside an actual chamber, they were appropriately claustrophobic.

Think Dr. House, if he was even more weary yet dogged.
Though the lead is good, probably the best performance goes to his assistant, Assad. Considering how the main character was at the beginning, it’s telling that by the end he and Assad are almost buddies—he even cracks a smile—especially after all the crap Assad has to put up with from him.
Another contender for best performance has to go to the victim, who stayed strong enough after three years of captivity and atmospheric pressure to shoot him the finger. It was hard to reconcile the character in the flashbacks where she’s a young vibrant politician to how she was by the time she was rescued, but she does a great job in showing the fortitude. It’s almost insane.
A special mention also goes to the actor playing the victim’s brother, a mentally impaired young man who then had to suffer through the added horror of seeing his sister abducted. There’s a moment where he goes from almost catatonia to screaming in horror that you can’t help but be amazed. . . once your heartbeat settles down.

As to be expected from this type of movie, it’s dark and brooding, showing parts of Copenhagen tourists don’t see. This is one of my favorite towns, and while I didn’t expect shots of the Nyhavn or the Little Mermaid, I didn’t recognize one single vista, not even in the establishing shots. Other than their brief trip to Sweden, you don’t see the beauty of Scandinavia.
But once resigned to that, it’s easier to make out individual choices. There are some shots, for example, that come right out of the horror genre. Almost as creepy are some of the establishing shots in the insane asylum, though the garden certainly looked cheery in the sunlight. Perhaps the most intriguing set was the basement office, with its labyrinth-like stacks of beige files; at times it looked like a sepia filter.

Right away the tone is set with the creepy atmospheric music accompanying the opening credits. Other than that there’s nothing to talk about, as I don’t remember hearing another note the whole way through. . . which is not to say there wasn’t any music, it simply didn’t penetrate my brain.

After a slow start the movie gets better and better, until by the end you’re rooting for them to find her. It helps that it stops being about the detective and his hangups—other than a few brushes with Assad—and narrows its focus to the mystery.


Book Reviews: Lisping Cats, Fantasy Shorts, and Murderers

“How ‘bout some ice cream?”
“So early in the morning?” she chirped perkily.
I made the kind of grimace that usually spelled doom for a relationship. “It ain’t vodka.”

The Mutts Winter Diaries
This is a collection of comic strips from a series I’ve never seen, so it was interesting getting what is supposed to be a one-a-day all at once. The downside of this was not being familiar with the characters; took me a while to realize the one with the lisp is a cat.
Each section features a running theme; in the first we get dogs, cats, and birds all hating snow. The dog wears a sweater, the cat loses his purr, so on. The artwork is kinda minimal, almost sketchlike, but it doesn’t detract.
In a way it’s a typical comic strip: anthropomorphic animals being funny. This is steadily chuckleworthy, though some chuckles were louder than others. Don’t remember any actual laugh-out-loud moments, but certainly worth the time it took me to read it.

Dead Silent
Two cases in Manchester—England, that is—plus romantic problems keep a police detective on his toes. Between his affair with a hot reporter, a missing child, and a torture psycho murder, the cop seems in way over his head, but luckily has a few subordinates and a daughter that help him through. On the other hand, a mobster cousin promises to derail his career if he doesn’t help him with an alibi, as if there weren’t enough complications.
Didn’t like the ending, especially since I detest sequel hooks, or the way the poor Polish nanny was treated, but until then a solid detective thriller. Though I’m pretty well versed on Brit slang, the glossary at the end was helpful; I would have thought I would have figured out what “nick” meant by now. . .

Die for Me
Didn’t realize until I was near the end that I’d read another book in this series, of which this is the eighth; I blame it on the first person point of view.
A former reporter/now PI hears from a woman he once saved; she’s now a psychic, and tells him she pictured a body dump, and he has to find it. Despite the paucity of clues she gives him, and always remembering that this kind of plot twist is going to be convenient, I found the way it was all worked out convincing and logical, which put me in a good mood for the rest of the novel.
The rescue of the damsel in distress, while not eminently predictable, still happened the way I thought it would, albeit by someone other than the hero. The killer also turned out to be the most obvious, the one character who really didn’t have to be in the story. The most interesting part is all the women, many of whom are more interested in him than he is in them. I particularly liked the female detective, and wish there had been more on her; if there are more books in this series, I hope she’s in them. On the other hand, his soon-to-be-ex seems to only be there to tie up loose ends from previous books, and while at first I liked the coincidental meeting with the psychic’s niece, she soured me quickly.
In general, I liked it well enough, a serviceable mystery/thriller.

Strange Worlds Stories
As always with collections of short stories, it’s hard to give one single grade for the whole thing, while also bothersome to give a rating to each story.
Some of these are very entertaining. The first story features a doctor treating an alien for butt pain, only to be ground down by bureaucracy and a government cover-up; could have been better without the romantic frame, but still a solid 4. But from there a number of linked fantasy sorties, most of them parodies of other stories or genres, take up the bulk of the book, and little by little I lost interest. As a fan of the Myth series by Robert Asprin, as well as George Alec Effinger’s Maureen Birnbaum universe, it seemed to me that was what this author was reaching for, but it was never funny enough to get there. The western parody was cute, the Lord of the Rings one not as much. The Maid Marian story was fun, but unlike the previous entries, I felt the writing was more pedestrian here. Another entry seems to be a parody of 30s pulp sci-fi, with a tough babe fighting an alien monster named Zaftig. My fave was the Romeo and Juliet fantasy reworking at the end, especially the other Shakespeare characters who appear with just a slight name change: Otello, MacBath, Dreadmona, so on.