Solar Storm: in a teacup?

As Covid-19 storms through our lives, the sun shines spotless. Recent information about solar tantrums are designed to scare us shitless. Indeed, given the havoc sun storms can cause us, some of us rejoiced as day after day passed and the face of the sun remained pristine.

Some, however, recalled major minimas of the past. When the sun is rather inactive, it’s in a minima. Past minimas have included ice ages. Reports also correlate such times with epidemics but we’re not really sure how that works. In any case, most of us are more aware of the sun’s active phases and, though we’re in a deep solar minima, news still tells us of fiersome solar storms from the past.

And there is trend to watch apocalyptic films during the pandemic. Some involve solar storms. Most of those are of the doomsday kind but I chanced on one recently that is another cup of tea altogether.

In the charming 2016 film from Italy, Storm Warning,  there is nothing terrible at all. 

Over the plot hangs the threat of a major solar storm. Fräulein – Una Fiaba d’Inverno was made in  2016 when we were in the thick of a solar maxima.  

We are in a town in northeastern Italy where most speak German and a few Italian. Regina, a gloomy and lonely woman, finds her placid life upturned by a mysterious visitor, a man who insists on staying as a guest at her hotel, which has not taken anyone in for years.

It is director Caterina Carone’s debut film and she has not made another film so far. But it’s a gem nevertheless.

I wanted to make a positive film without murders, murderers and violence, a film which just gives to its viewers confidence in their own path and desire for life. In our age, there is a so deep and dramatic lack of desire and distrust in ourselves and in the future. I think that we directors, writers, artists in general, have the responsibility to tell that a better world is possible, to inspire people’s desire to feel and make the good. Media and a certain cinema and literature don’t do this enough; there’s often a sort of pleasure in pain, while our age needs confidence.

Interview with Caterina Carone

Headhunters – Nesbø on Netflix

Headhunters is a gem of a film: classy acting, a cool cast – good cinematography overall. But the hero’s not Harry Hole, normally Nesbø’s hero in his novels.

In fact, our hero here is not a detective. Neat, almost aseptic, Roger Brown leads the good life. He seems to have it all. Or does he? And is it enough to retain the love of his life? What happens when someone is too clever for their own good?

Like a grand symphony the film flows from a calm and strong opening, gathering speed along the way to cascade into an action-packed finale. Contemporary to the core, the plot is a throwback to concepts of chivalrous love and a powerful morality tale.

Aksel Hennie delivers a performance worthy of his great track record with acting.

 Actor Aksel Hennie during production of the thriller film Pioneer

I’ve read some Jo Nesbø novels but not this one and seeing the film has sent me hunting for the book.

Oddly Endearing – Unhandy Handyman

At a time when the daily news is depressing we need an escape. Try Fuben na Benriya, as Unhandy Handyman is called in Japan. The drama is the entertaining tale of Takeyama, a young screenwriter.

The young man has stormed out of Tokyo after a tiff with a director. But the bus he’s boarded can’t go any further as everything is covered with snow. So he’s stranded in a small Hokkaido village.

Masaki Okada, who acts as Takeyama, radiates perfect innocence with his boyish looks.

Dick Thomas Johnson / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Finding himself unable to proceed to his destination, Takeyama wanders into a bar where a banner says ‘Welcome Jun’! Is it a case of The Return of the Prodigal Son? Who knows! But Takeyama loses his wallet and cellphone at the bar. Now he has to stay with Matsui who runs a benriya – a place that offers to do odd jobs for a fee.

The drama’s theme song: The Place Has No Name by The Straightener

In each episode Takeyama tries hard to get out of the town but each time he fails: he loses his coat, and then his backpack. Once he dyes his hair while drunk… So he stays back and helps out as handyman. Now, he’s almost part of the town!

Takeyama has blundered into an odd but loveable world full of bizarre but endearing people. The cast boasts no big stars but is studded by some of Japan’s best by-players.

Another charm of the show comes from Takeyama’s overactive mind. After all he is a screenwriter! His fertile imagination festers with scenarios and that leads to all kinds of hilarious situations.

Inconvenient Handymen, as it’s also called, has 12 half-hour episodes. Each guaranteed to make you laugh. As most of India reels under a heatwave, what can be better than watching a show that showcases Hokkaido’s winter wonderland?

Traces and Jordskott – Rooting for Women

There was a time when women-centric meant sob stories. Now, in parts of the world, we have more realistic depictions of females. I’m not sure how India fares on that scale. But women and men all over the world will enjoy Traces and Jordskott for their strong female leads.

Emma Hedges returns to her hometown, Dundee, to join as lab assistant at the  Scottish Institute of Forensic Science. Soon it’s obvious that the MOOC she’s attending has a case which sounds much like what happened to her mother. Emma’s mother was brutally murdered ages ago but the killer was never found.

The six episodes are quickly raced through as the past unravels before Emma who is a bit of a risk taker but with her head screwed on right. Unlike that of her mother’s. The moral of the story for me is that more girls ought to take up science.

Traces is a murder mystery but one with a heart. For one thing, there is much forgiveness. But more than just being about the softness of life amidst drugs and depravity, the series holds a tender tale of love.

What I loved most: The scene where Emma explains GC-MS (Gas Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry). I wish I could get the transcript for that.

While Traces from the UK tracks the life of science, Sweden’s Jordskott brings you to the brink of the unreal. Detective Eva Thörnblad returns to Silverhöjd just as Emma came home to Dundee in Traces. Where Emma seeks her mother’s killer, Eva is still searching for her daughter who disappeared almost under her eyes, seven years back.

This binge worthy series spirals through a vortex of man versus ‘monsters’. I use the word ‘man’ because, in Jordskott, it is men who want to destroy the forest out of greed. But the ‘monsters’ (as they are called by the others) are more like Marvel superheroes – good guys mostly.

‘Leave nature alone’ seems to be the underlying message but that’s not rubbed threadbare mercifully! The show will keep you rooted (pun intended).

As with Traces, the good, the bad and the ugly are all women. And, as with Traces, the very bad is male. I do agree that it is deplorable bias but one to which we can turn a blind eye given that the men in both shows are also mostly as real as they get and as nice too – Emma’s biological father in Traces is flawed but likeable. And her romantic partner is near flawless.

In Jordskott, though, even the ultimate baddie is not as inherently evil as the villain in Traces. The Nordic lands tend to a more balanced reality even when they take us into deep fantasy. Evil, after all, is mostly a momentary lapse of judgement

Unlike Traces, Jordskott has a second season – and it sounds as promising.

Try ‘Say My Name’

But where to watch? Ask for it by name. Create the demand for good cinema on your neighbourhood Amazon or Netflix accounts.

From a romp gone wrong to killers with a background in opera, Say My Name is 80 odd minutes of pure gold. Deliciously dark, this well made film is a toast to the genres it celebrates. Rom-com? Much more! The film will tie you up in knots and keep you biting your nails as a hapless couple falls prey to two very dangerous predators. Non stop action laced with gags galore.

A rip-roaring roller coaster ride

Say My Name manages to include some sweetly touching moments toward the conclusion, as well as a feel-good ending that romantic comedy fans will fully embrace. The pix should also do wonders in terms of tourism for the gorgeous Welsh island where it was filmed. The locations are so scenic, in fact, that it makes you disappointed so much of the story takes place indoors.

‘Say My Name’: Film Review

Say My Name has American actor, Lisa Brenner as centrepiece and it’s a gourmet treat to watch her act – some of these movies which might never make it to your screens have acting that’s worth its weight in gold. Some in India might remember Lisa from The Patriot:

The film also showcases the critically acclaimed and award-winning actor and screenwriter, Celyn Jones. His role in Say My Name will have you holding your sides – I refuse to descend to spoilers. See him in a film about poet Dylan Thomas:

But there’s also Nick Blood, the male half of the victim couple. He not only acts but also writes and directs. And in the film he’s not just a pretty face. From the randy word go, in Say My Name he’s cute as pudding and will have your eyes pop out their sockets as he works each inch of skin splendidly. Yes, I’m sure we’ll never get to see it here. Besides cigarettes, male behinds are a distinctive sign of good cinema. But that’s not all Blood wiggles at us.

Von Emma Marie’s Photos from England – Nick Blood, CC BY 2.0

Perhaps Say My Name won’t come to a movie hall near you and perhaps we’re still too immature and prudish to appreciate such films. And that’s sad as we are forced to stomach the brain numbing slapstick stupidity that Hollywood and Bollywood spew upon us relentlessly. It’s time we asked for more cinema from Europe for our screens.

Three Christmas Films

And Four Christmases is first on my list. It was delightful to chance upon the film and to end up watching it on Xmas night. Even for those of us who do not celebrate the festival, the prospect of four Christmases is as alluring as that of four Eids or four Diwalis. However, in this delightful rom-com of sorts, for the couple involved, it’s almost four times as painful as four visits to the dentist. But watching the duo go through the festivities at four different households turns out to be a merry experience.

The second film on my list is as short as its adorable protagonist. On the date of any religious festival whatsoever, it is only just that we consider the matter of faith. This film is a very gentle reminder of that. Far too often, religious faith becomes nothing but an occasion for some strong Us and Them moments. And faith that can live through questions is the best sort. It’s not about answers or about being convinced or unconvinced. The best sort of religious faith walks through all darknesses and emerges stronger and more loving, more gentle.

The Angel’s Share comes third on my list but is no less precious an experience. After all, it was the season to be merry! The film is a precious toast to all things divine, including good whiskey and the quality of unstrained mercy.

I can’t even give you a hint of what the fourth film was as it’s already being taken down due to protests about irreverence. Given the contemporary narrowing of minds, it’s become easy to shout ‘blasphemy’ and get away with blue murder. News is there are more than a million petitioners out for its blood and Netflix is being forced to take it off their menu. Again, sacred is as sacred does and casting stones is easy. Today, there’s rarely anything sacred in the behaviours of the religious – no real compassion, no real generosity of spirit anywhere. Perhaps such films need to be made fearlessly and the religious need to learn to smile. Else the rest of us might not be able to see the real sacred enchantment that is within all faiths.

Pylon Premieres Endeavour Season Six

 Pylon is written by Russell Lewis, the mysterious creative genius who powers the British crime drama Endeavour. Russell has written many other good shows including the delightful The Last Detective:

Russell Lewis’ detective series Endeavour is about Inspector Morse’s early days in the police force. Detective Morse was created by Colin Dexter, an Oxford academic who birthed the novels whilst on a morose holiday with grumbling children and glum weather outside.

Dexter_-_Last_Bus_to_Woodstock
By Source, Fair use
While the books might not be that much fun for some readers today, the show it bred, Inspector Morse, remains a favourite. The series was dominated by actor John Thaw.

And so well liked that it spawned first Inspector Lewis

and then, more recently, Endeavour:

Endeavour – Series V – ITV trailer from Jim Field Smith on Vimeo.

Endeavour is the first name of Inspector Morse and it is rarely brought up in the original Inspector Morse show.  Morse’s Quaker mother gave him the peculiar name.

Peculiar names is another enchanting feature of the show. Endeavour has a Chief Superintendent Bright and a Detective Constable Fancy. But it is Police Constable Strange who takes the cake for bizarre names. And he climbs the ranks faster than Endeavour to being Detective Chief Superintendent Strange in Inspector Morse.

Britain today is more egalitarian than it was then.

In the sixties – the period in which Endeavour is set – Britain’s so-called aristocracy still held sway. It was a world where the son of a cab driver might stand little chance. Yet Endeavour Morse, son of one such cabbie, acquires the necessary class. He has passed through a respectable university – Cambridge – at some point. He has classy tastes in music, favouring Wagner, and is a fastidious being. The character is well crafted by Russell and superbly interpreted by actor Shaun Evans who has managed to make us really feel that he is a younger John Thaw.

And, if that is not enough, Thaw’s daughter is also a regular in the show where she plays a seasoned journalist – almost the only friend young Morse has. The veteran actor’s wife also acts in the series.

In Pylon, recently demoted and bitter, Constable Endeavour Morse follows a missing horse across a field to a pylon where he finds a dead young girl with a flower crown. How did she die? And why has her body been so carefully arranged.

And it’s not only Morse who has been humiliated. The episode opens with Chief Superintendent Bright acting in a traffic PSA with a pelican. Such a step down!

But Detective Sergeant Strange has risen in power. He reminds Morse that they had promised to find out what happened to Detective Constable Fancy who was shot in the last episode where we learned that the gun that killed him was not among the guns found at the massacre.

Fred Thursday, another staple of the show, has also been demoted. His new boss is rude to Morse. It is a very disturbing time as the original team is scattered.

Endeavour is a show that stands out for its use of music too and this piece from the early part of the episode nicely sums up things as they stand:

Given the peculiar way the dead girl’s body was arranged, suspicion falls on mentally deranged Stanley Clemence. His father was hanged for murder. Is history repeating itself? Morse visits Stanley Clemence to find out as The Velvet Underground play What Goes on

And when the estranged Strange pops up …
 

There are other pieces of music interwoven into the episode but these few will have to do.

Pylon has its twists and turns and offers fans all the regular features. Original creator Colin Dexter used to do a cameo role when alive. Now, he graces the show as a picture. In Pylon, his photo hangs on a wall as a poster. Thursday’s family takes a backseat in this episode with only daughter Joan popping in but romance plays a low key in Pylon. Red herrings, though, another characteristic of the drama, abound. With each show, there’s a fresh director, a fresh perspective on aesthetics.

The episode is directed by Johnny Kenton. Though I can’t find anything popular, samples of his work on Vimeo amply witness his skill.

Meanwhile, here is a peek at the next episode:

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Icarus Flies High – An Intense Endeavour

Icarus, in Greek mythology, made wings of wax and feathers. But when he flew up the sun melted his wings and he fell.

Fall_of_Icarus_Blondel_decoration_Louvre_INV2624.jpg
Merry-Joseph Blondel (1781-1853) 

Icarus is also the name of episode 6 of season 5 of a British crime drama, Endeavour. The series is set in the sixties, a time characterised by drug use. Youngsters flew high on the wings of various hallucinogens for youth is prone to experiment. And many came crashing down from those highs. Much like Icarus the Greek whose tale has come to us across the vastness of the past.

But in the episode, Icarus, it’s November 1968.

 

 

 

Endeavour revolves around a set of police detectives in Oxford, a university town in the UK. The show acts as prequel to another famous British crime series, Inspector Morse. Morse’s first name is Endeavour. And the show is about his early days in the force.

The sixties were still a time when birth mattered. Endeavour Morse’s father was a taxi driver. But he attended Cambridge, another famous British university. Yet he opts to be a cop. And it is his tastes in music, art and literature that enrich the series.

As Icarus opens, we see the police team we know so well on the verge of folding up. Detective Sergeant Endeavour, meanwhile, is sent to act as teacher, undercover, in a school. He’s to look into the disappearance of the teacher he’s replacing. The officers investigating what happened to James Ivory have died in a car crash

Morse is accompanied by Woman Police Constable Trewlove who will act as his wife. From earlier episodes we know that she’s in a relationship with Detective Constable Fancy. But for now, alone in their new living quarters, Morse plays music while Trewlove works on her toes. We wonder if she will be another of his lady loves for Endeavour has just lost another love. In Quartet, Claudine says farewell to him. 

 

 

Claudine was introduced to him by Joan, the real love of his life. Joan is the daughter of Detective Chief Inspector Fred Thursday who is a kind of mentor to Endeavour.

Thursday has been sent to look into gangland matters. The show regularly features a gangster called Eddie Nero and his son is also at the school. Most of the school boys Endeavour has to teach are terrible bullies. And they are prejudiced, speaking badly of Jews and others such as the sons of rich gangsters.

The school’s games teacher is sadistic. His attitude will ring a bell for us in India. There are people who believe we have to be tough, that we have to take our country back to some golden age.  Often, such folks display a love for the military. And in the worlds of such people there is no room for weakness.

Of course, a body is found. It’s not the missing teacher, however. It’s a student the school had expelled.  Drugs are being used by the school boys. Drugs supplied by gangsters.

But Thursday is caught up in the tension between gangster Nero and his West indian rival. Things come to a head and the police have to rush to Nero’s place. As the show crescendos into a spiral of violence and tragedy, Jim Reeves sings He’ll Have to Go.

While the show is not all dark, there is stark loss and bitter betrayal and bleak locales shade the drama. But there is always exquisite scenery and Endeavour is a fine practice of cinematography.

Endeavour is based on crime novels written by a Colin Dexter. A part of fan enjoyment of the series are its regular features and during his life Colin Dexter would star in cameos. After his demise he continues to appear in photos. In Icarus he is in a picture on a wall behind Thursday in one scene.

Icarus is directed by Gordon Anderson who also directed the first three episodes of season five of Shetland, also a fabulous British crime series.

 

It’s always Russell Lewis who writes Endeavour episodes and fans breathe a sigh of relief as season six surfaced after a lull.

Quartet – a Cold War Quiz

Quartet offers a foursome: spies, domestic violence or wife beating as we call it here, gangs, and an obstacle race.

It is probably hard for many Indians today to understand the Cold War climate. It was an era that bred much spy fiction. Spy stories thrived during the world wars.

But those wars never really ended for some. The Allies – the US and the UK, basically – had to contend with a new entrant to the game of expansion – the Soviet Union. The Germany that the Allies subdued broke into two under the strain of subjugation – East and West Germany. And East Germany provided a wonderful chance to perpetuate the idiom of the Evil Nazi.

While race relations fueled the previous episode, Colours, the fifth episode of the fifth season of the British crime series Endeavour side steps the issue but begins with an obstacle race.

October, 1968. As part of a British game show, participants from various European countries, dressed up as giants, clumsily compete in a race.  Men, women and children have gathered to watch. As has the local police.

Endeavour is basically about Detective Sergeant Endeavour Morse. The series is a prequel to an already very popular show: Inspector Morse. Inspector Morse is a character created by Colin Dexter. Endeavour has many regular features in each episode and one such is to have Colin Dexter appear, much as Hitchcock did in his films. After Colin Dexter passed away, he appears in photos in the show. In Quartet, however, he is hard to spot and I’m not sure what happened there.

Detective Sergeant Endeavour Morse is at the obstacle race with other regulars from the show. And it’s a good thing the police are present for the funny games end in tragedy. One of the Giants fell during the game but does not get up. He’s been shot. As has a little boy among the spectators.

The dead man was from East Germany. However, though the police have been on the scene, they are ordered to stop looking into the case. The orders come from higher up. But Morse is not one to take orders lying down. And, as a consequence, he is plunged into the dangerous world of spies.

While Endeavour is out investigating the murders, Detective Chief Inspector Fred Thursday finds out that his newsagent might be a wife beater. And, as if that’s not enough on their plates, Morse and the others have to deal with gangland growls.

There’s also a rich perfumer with a dangerous fish as pet! And two absurd men who claim to be secret agents add a touch of humour to an otherwise tense episode.

Quartet has memorable jump-out-of-your-skin spots. And twists in the tale.


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Colours: Endeavour Hews Race Issues

Coloured is what the British once called us. The British and others once used skin colour as a reason to oppress others. And it is such issues that colour the final episode of the fifth season of Endeavour, a British crime drama set in the late sixties.

Such a pity that we’ll probably not see the show ever, here in India. It would be good inspiration for our dramas and films. There is much that is similar between how people of colour were once treated in parts of the world and how we Indians treat some other Indians.

One takeaway is how to speak of things political without lapsing into propaganda. Colours takes place in 1968, a time known for riots worldwide.

Detective Chief Inspector Fred Thursday is dancing with his wife. Fred is not the main character in the drama but he and his family loom over the series.

DCI Thursday is mentor/father figure to Detective Sergeant Morse, the Endeavour after whom the show is named. But Thursday already has family. A wife, a daughter and a son.

The wife, Win, is a slightly pitiful gentle character and we mainly interface with her via her sandwiches. She packs husband Fred a different kind of sandwich for each day of the week but they never seem to impress him. As Colours opens, she refers to Thursday’s upcoming retirement – something to which he does not look forwards. He’s married to his job.

Daughter, Joan, serves as romantic interest for Endeavour. But it’s one sided – Joan, with a policeman father, can’t think of life with one. And, since Endeavour is prequel to another famous show, Inspector Morse, we know that Endeavour remains single.

The son only comes into prominence in this episode. He last appeared in Coda, episode four of series three. There, we see Sam leave to join the army.  Early in Colours, we see him at an army base where a fashion shoot is about to take place.

Lance Corporal Sam Thursday and mates, Privates Oswald and Collier, will soon sail for Germany. But, in the meantime, Sam and his mates are asked to escort the models for the photo shoot. They gladly do so. Oswald is black.

We also see Morse and a girl, at the Oxford Debating Society, attending a talk on sending immigrants home. Rings a bell for us in India today.

Endeavour met the girl, Claudine, at a housewarming party thrown by Joan. Later, we see him leave Claudine’s flat and we hear:

Meanwhile, at the military base, as the models are getting photographed:

One of the models, pretty Jean Ward, flirts with Sam only to tell him she’s ‘taken’ already. After the shoot, as she changes:

In the meantime, Claudine and Endeavour have a picnic in a garden with a bottle of wine as the radio plays:

As the couple relax on a lawn, a hair salon practicing segregation becomes a target for protesters. Many protests, in those days, were sparked by segregation or not allowing coloured people and others to share the same spaces.

The police guard the salon. We see Woman Police Constable, Trewlove, another usual of the show – a bright and beautiful young woman. And Morse’s latest lady, Claudine, is busy taking photos. Joan Thursday and a student, Kit Hutchens, are protesters, with a Marcus X.

In those days, there was a black leader called Malcolm X – is the show referring to him?

In any case, there’s a small riot and Trewlove gets a black eye. Joan is arrested. But Detective Sergeant Strange, another regular on the show, releases her. Will something develop between the two? There’s already tension between him and Morse which is not so strange given professional rivalry.

But then Sam, Thursday’s son, becomes a suspect in a murder case as the model who kissed him is found dead on the army base. However, it appears that she kisses every Tom, Dick and Oswald and it is the black who is dragged off to the police station. Everything points to him.

And then there’s another corpse! So, who can have done the murders?

We are offered a fine choice of suspects. There’s the girl’s stepmother, a Nazi sympathizer, Lady Bayswater. She will inherit a lot with Jean out of the way.

But there’s also Marcus X and Thursday and Endeavour go to meet him. The murdered Jean, we know, kissed a lot of men. And it pleased her to chose those whom her parents despised – Marcus is black like Oswald.

However, on the army base, there’s a huge McDuff who seems to get easily excited and attacks Endeavour. He is treated with great gentleness by the regiment’s leaders. And, though we can see that he might be a murderer, he is not arrested and is only led to bed like a child by Major Coward. The Major then sings him to sleep:

Desperate as each clue leads nowhere, Morse also visits the salon during the investigation:

And it’s there that things finally fall into place in Endeavour’s excellent brain! The pace is peppy and there’s plenty of action in the showdown.

Colours has all the regular features of an Endeavour episode. The show is inspired by the novels of Colin Dexter and, while the author was alive, he’d appear in every episode. After his death, he shows up as pictures. Here, he’s in uniform in a photo on a wall.

With the finale of the season, I plan to diverge for a time as I do feel dejected that Endeavour may never be aired in India.