DVD Review: Follow The Money – The Complete Season Two

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Second season of the corporate drama proves that even Nordic Noir can have an off moment.

As the closing credits rolled on Follow the Money‘s first season it seemed that the story had reached its natural conclusion. Energreen’s CEO Alexander Sødergren may have been able to evade the forces of law and order in his Brazilian hideout but was unable to avoid the wrath of the firm’s chairman, Knud Christensen.

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Picking up events 18 months after Sødergren’s assassination, Follow the Money’s second season stumbles at the starting block and never recovers. The first series managed to finds its unsteady feet after an opening episode which committed the cardinal sin of hitting the viewer with too much exposition. Problems already evident in the first season are magnified in this second outing. Never recovering from an implausible opening episode which sets up a succession of improbable alliances this sophomore outing is a surprising misfire from DR’s drama department.

A brave but ultimately doomed attempt to fuse the visceral thrills of a crime series with an exploration of corporate malfeasance. Follow the Money is occasionally thrilling but mostly infuriating.

Lacking the depth of shows from Nordic Noir’s golden period, it’s a bland attempt to rehash the limited successes of a failed format. A tolerance for clumsy dialogue and an unhealthy suspension of disbelief are required to sit through Follow the Money.

Follow The Money – The Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon

 

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DVD Review: Follow The Money – The Complete Season One

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Nordic drama exposes corporate corruption.

Is greed good? Gordon Gekko’s infamous speech in the 1987 movie Wall Street made a case for the pursuit of corporate self-interest. After the devastating effects of the global economic crash corporate raiders pursuing fast profits were seen as sharp-suited vultures who had wrecked lives and saddled future generations with insurmountable debt. Taking the financial services industry to task, Follow the Money looks at the drive to green-light renewable energy projects and dares to investigate the legitimacy of its funding.

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Inspired by The Wire, Follow the Money is a flawed exploration of fraud and its consequences. Ambitious in scope, the series endeavours to offers a sprawling, intelligent, and shocking expose of crooked deals and cold-hearted morality but is occasionally crushed by a lack of focus. Attempting to prove that something is rotten in the state of Denmark Follow the Money‘s novelistic approach occasionally misfires. A brave experiment? Sign that Nordic drama is in transition? Signal that the well is starting to run dry? Far removed from the creative heights of The Bridge or The Killing, the series is a predictable schedule-filler.

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With a continent still reeling from the aftershocks of the 2008 crash a drama exposing the practices which brought the world to its knees should have been a recipe for riveting television. Starting with the death of a windshore turbine engineer Follow the Money‘s opening episode is a spectacular misfire. Teetering on the tightrope to failure it tosses in familiar, all-too-familiar, elements of more accomplished Nordic Noir series before loading the opening episode with too many characters and far too much plot. While later episodes settle into a more relaxed pattern it may be too late for viewers that have already pressed eject on their remote and decided to watch something else.

Follow The Money – The Complete Season One is available to order from Amazon

Bridge Over Nordic Water

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How a TV series is helping transform Malmö into a must visit destination: Sweden’s third largest city is the backdrop to a hit Scandi-crime series.

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Showing no signs off running out of steam the third season of Danish-Swedish crime series The Bridge has been a critical and ratings success throughout Scandinavia.

One of Scandinavian TV’s biggest exports, The Bridge has been screened in 174 countries. Interest in the series is at an all time high cementing the third season’s status as one of 2015’s most anticipated returning dramas.

Since The Bridge first aired on BBC Four Malmö has had an allure for fans of Nordic Noir eager to follow in the footsteps of Saga Norén and Martin Rhode. In tandem with the launch of the third season a series of events and activities have been organised that that will satisfy even the most ardent Saga Norén fans. 

Malmö Museer’s display of props, costumes, and set designs is a must visit destination for aficionados. Running until September 2016 the exhibition is entitled ‘A Non-Existent Malmö’. As the title reflects, The Bridge represents a Malmö that does not exist. The collection of exhibits invites visitors to consider what The Bridge’s success may say about contemporary Nordic society.

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Alongside Saga Norén’s costume and mustard coloured Porsche, the centrepiece of the exhibition is a concrete bunker which represents cracks in the welfare state. Visitors that peer through the fractured edifice will see props and costumes from all three seasons including amulets and animal masks from the second series.

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The exhibition also includes photographs, video clips, a map of Malmö locations featured in the series, and a large production bible which details the series creators’ key creative choices offering a revealing insight into the workings behind a hit TV series. Illuminating and engaging, the exhibition provides an exhaustive overview of The Bridge and its place in modern Scandinavian society.

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Fans eager to take the experience of being in Malmö to an entirely different level should book a place on the location tour.

Travelling around the city’s hotspots, its backstreets and deserted industrial plants, a guide reveals behind the scenes stories, explains how Malmö has been transformed in recent years, and offers insights into Swedish culture.

An on board DVD player screens clips enabling fans to compare locations with their appearance on screen.

The tour lets fans follow in the footsteps of on-screen detectives Saga Norén and Martin Rohde. Viewers will be surprised to discover that a doctor’s surgery doubles as the city’s police station in the series. Taking in Malmö locations featured prominently in the series the tour visits the exterior of Saga Norén’s apartment block and offers fans spectacular views of the Öresund Bridge. 

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Backdrop to three seasons of murder, intrigue, and international police co-operation, the Öresund Bridge is a symbol of cross-border harmony. Opened in 2000, the ten mile crossing has a deep meaning for Denmark and Sweden. Until 1658 Skåne County was part of Denmark and in the years between 1521 and 1814 the two nations went to war 27 times. An architectural triumph, the bridge represents close cultural and economic ties between countries that once waged war but have now found a lasting peace.

The Facts:

Fans making a pilgrimage to Sweden’s southern capital to inspect scenes of crimes featured in the series will experience a metropolis more vibrant than its small screen counterpart. A cosmopolitan city undergoing expansion and renewal, previously an industrial district Malmö is now at the forefront of cutting-edge developments in design. An international centre for innovation and culture, Malmö ranked fourth in Forbes 2013 list of the world’s most innovative cities. This future-facing metropolis is home to a diverse populace, the city’s residents speak 176 languages.

Easily accessible via Copenhagen Airport. The average rail journey time between airport terminal and Malmö Central is 20 minutes.

Further Information

Scandinavian Airlines offer direct flights to Copenhagen from London Heathrow, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Manchester:

https://www.flysas.com/uk/flights/denmark/

For more information about Malmö:

http://www.visitsweden.com/sweden/Regions–Cities/Malmo/

Find information about The Bridge exhibition at Malmö Museer and tickets for The Bridge Tour here:

http://www.malmotown.com/en/?s=bridge#thebridge

Download your personal Bridge mini guide to Malmö here:

http://www.visitsweden.com/PageFiles/45269/VS_THEBRIDGETHREE_MINIGUIDE_PR.pdf

The Öresund Bridge: Photo © Janus Langhorn /imagebank.sweden.se

DVD Review: The Spider

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A host of familiar faces star in an impressive post-war noir mystery series.

In 1949 Denmark was a traumatised nation unable to conceal the visible scars of a brutal occupation by Nazi forces that had killed over 3,000 people. Liberation ushered in an era of shortages and rationing. Struggling to rebuild its infrastructures, the fragile government appeared to be impotent when confronted with the black market economy.

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Left-leaning journalist Bjarne Maden (Jakob Cedergren) is an idealist eager to forge a career as a crime reporter. Unwavering in his belief in the press’ power to effect significant social change he covers stories which highlight cracks in the battered country’s system. Son of a noted union leader he uses the printed word to continue his father’s work standing up for the marginalised and persecuted. Championing social justice, Bjarne is striving to craft a new Denmark untainted by criminality.

A tip-off about organised crime leads the intrepid reporter on a trail which uncovers a web corruption that infects the upper stratums of society. Ignoring cautionary advice from the newspaper’s senior crime writer, Bjarne embarks on a self-appointed crusade to expose the toxic tendrils of lawlessness contaminating Copenhagen and bring the criminals to task.

Although the process of rebuilding Denmark is underway, the country remains divided along lines fought during the war. Bjarne’s brother Ole (Lars Mikkelsen) returns to Copenhagen. after several years in America. Enthused by time spent living in New York and flush with dollars he plans to open a jazz club. Ole’s reinvention is viewed with suspicion by those who are unable to forgive him for being a Nazi sympathiser during the occupation.

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First broadcast in 2000, The Spider is loosely based on the true story of journalists Anders B. Norgaard and Poul Dalgaard’s dogged attempts to expose a criminal network and highlight the police’s complicity in a black market economy built on smuggling, stolen goods, drugs, and prostitution.

Bjarne Henriksen is perfectly cast as an ice-cool racketeer who controls the crime syndicate with an iron glove. A Danish Al Capone type figure based on the real-life criminal Svend Aage Hasselstrøm who rose to prominence during World War Two and maintained a vice-like grip on Copenhagen’s underworld for eight years.

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An era of lawlessness and crushed hopes is meticulously recreated in a multi-layered and engrossing high-quality series that traces Denmark’s attempts to expunge the corruption which threatened to strangle the post-war administration.

Director Ole Christan Madsen’s affection for Film Noirs shines through in an exemplary production which doffs a fedora to classic crime films of the 1940s and ’50s. Cinematography, costuming and set design work in tandem to create the sense of a time when gangsters held entire cities under their command.

Complex and engaging, The Spider is an arresting drama packed with an array of now well-known Scandinavian actors at the top of their game.

The Spider is available to order from Amazon.

 

DVD Review: Crimes of Passion

Arrow Films’ latest DVD Crimes of Passion release demonstrates Scandinavia has a long history of crime fiction. In the decades before Nordic Noir’s emergence writers put a distinctly Scandinavian spin on the detective story.

Sweden’s first “Queen of crime fiction”, Maria Lang (real name Dagmar Lange) is frequently compared to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Writing in an era before Larssen, Nekker, and Mennkell had popularised Nordic Noir her novels were part of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. A prolific author, she produced a novel a year between 1949 to 1990. Fondly remembered by many of the current crop of Swedish crime novelists, Camilla Läckberg has mentioned reading Lang’s books in her youth.

In Lang’s hands the traditional murder-mystery became less cosy and more adventurous. Daring, for the time, references to illicit relationships, and same sex partnerships set her work apart from anything being produced by her English counterparts.

Most of her novels are set in the fictional township Skoga, based loosely upon the author’s home town of Nora.

Adapted from Lang’s early novels, Crimes of Passion is a series of six feature films set in 1950s Sweden. The period is authentically recreated via meticulously researched clothing and hairstyles along with an impressive array of vintage motor vehicles.

Doctoral student Puck ( Tuva Novotny) is studying crime fiction. When we first meet her she is lecturing on Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. Invited to a midsummer party on a small island she embraces the opportunity to go somewhere without a telephone. Celebrations are cut short when Puck discovers that one of the guests has been strangled by a silk scarf. Every person who attended the party is a suspect. Teaming up with Eje (Linus Wahlgren) and Commissioner Wijk (Ola Rapace of Wallander and Skyfall) this intrepid trio sifts through the evidence, determined to stay alive and catch the killer.

From a remote island in Bergslagen through to a vicarage on Christmas Eve, this courageous threesome faces murder wherever they travel.

Reverent without being too referential, the programme is faithful to the books and era. The production team have left themselves with enough room to add some creative flourishes whilst honouring the source material. Sumptuously photographed, the cinematography is composed of rich colours. Karl & Pär Frid’s score echoes the sounds of a pre Rock and Roll era. A Saul Bass inspired title sequence pays homage to his work for Alfred Hitchcock and doffs a Fedora hat to Mad Men.

Deceptively familiar, the series mostly adheres to the established framework familiar to Miss Marple fans of a murder in an isolated community being investigated by an amateur sleuth albeit with the addition of sexual tension and greater emphasis on psychological realism. Acknowledging its influences for all to see, the first episode references Christie’s “And Then There Were None”.

Definitely old fashioned and yet, paradoxically, thoroughly modern. The opening episode wrong-foots viewers by following the Christie template until a revelation reminds viewers that they are firmly in Scandinavian crime fiction territory. A stylish production with superb performances from the series regulars. Eagle-eyed fans of Nordic Noir films and TV shows will spot actors from Arne Dahl, Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, and Let the Right One In.

Six feature length films that will delight period drama and whodunnit aficionados.

Crimes of Passion is available to order from Amazon.

 

DVD Review: The Hour of the Lynx

Borgen director and Danish Academy award winner Soren Kragh-Jacobsen returns to the big screen with a haunting psychological drama that reunites The Killing‘s Sofie Gråbøl and Søren Malling. Adapted from a play by Per Olov Enquist, The Hour of the Lynx sees Gråbøl playing Helen, a priest who is struggling to convince herself that her work has any meaning for the modern world. Ministering to the spiritual needs of a small community, she preaches sermons at poorly attended services. Unable to contain the barely concealed frustration she utters a mild obscenity during preparations for a Confirmation ceremony and is admonished by a parishioner for defiling a place of worship.

An opportunity for personal salvation arrives when the church is visited by Lisbeth, a duty psychiatrist (Signe Egholm Olsen of Borgen) at the nearby secure hospital. For several weeks the institution has been running a behavioural experiment studying how patients respond to sharing their personal space with animals. The killer of an elderly couple has been assigned a cat. Initially unresponsive to treatment, he becomes more animated when partnered with a feline. Early reports suggest that the study has been a success but then something goes wrong and the patient is placed on suicide watch after an unsuccessful attempt to end his life. Convinced that self-murder is part of God’s plan he is determined to try again.

The project is facing imminent shut down so Lisbeth reaches out to the Helen hoping she can form a meaningful emotional connection with the inmate. As the hours tick away until the study is terminated Helen builds a rapport and tries to understand the trauma he has carried with him for so long and why that led him to murder two strangers. Racing against time to save his life, and Lisabeth’s professional reputation, an intense therapy session takes place exposing dark thoughts and painful memories.

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Soren Kragh-Jacobsen has crafted an uncompromising examination of guilt, faith, love, and the power of memory. Compelling in its exploration of the shadowy corners of the human psyche. This elegiac lament for lost innocence asks soul-searching questions about the fragility of beliefs and possibility of redemption. A film based upon distinct oppositions. The claustrophobic environment of a secure hospital is contrasted with the tranquillity of Sweden’s countryside. Minister of faith and scientist have seemingly incompatible perspectives but are forced by circumstance to overcome their mutual suspicions and work together.

Transcending it’s theatrical origins, The Hour of the Lynx is a highly intelligent and emotionally powerful film which effectively fills the cinematic canvas courtesy of nuanced cinematography sympathetic to the script’s intentions and uniformly excellent screen performances.

Steadfastly refusing to sugar coat or trivialise the subject matter, viewers are plunged headfirst into the darker recesses of a troubled soul. This movie will linger in the viewer’s memory. Recommended.

The Hour of the Lynx is available to order from Amazon.

To commemorate this film’s release Ash Loydon has produced a stunning portrait of Sofie Gråbøl.

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See further examples of Ash Loydon’s work at:

http://ashsarthole.blogspot.co.uk/

DVD Review: Northwest

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Long before the Scandi Crime explosion ushered in a wave of interest in all things Nordic, Denmark was making cinematic waves with the revolutionary Dogme 95 manifesto. Timed to coincide with cinema’s centenary celebrations, the document’s publication proposed a new mode of filmmaking that stripped away the excesses of mainstream production and emphasised the recreation of “reality”. Although the movement was wound down in 2002 due to concerns that its tenets had become a restrictive prescriptive framework its influence continues to be felt in contemporary Danish feature film production.

Honouring Dogme’s core ethos of using the medium of film to reconstruct reality without recourse to technical or narrative trickery, Michael Noer’s début motion picture the prison drama R was an uncompromising visceral tour de force shot with hand-held digital cameras and used non-professional actors, some of whom were former inmates. Straddling the boundary between genre and social realism, the film heralded the arrival of a significant screen talent.

For his second feature film, Noer rejects the romanticised version of Copenhagen prevalent in recent films and TV series, offering instead an abrasive and unflinching glimpse at the city’s seedy underbelly. Gritty, tense, and oozing authenticity Northwest is a family drama set against the backdrop of gang war in one of the city’s most impoverished districts.

Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) is a petty thief who dreams of climbing up the gangland ladder. Stealing small scale items for local boss Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jaburi) the young criminal is stuck living at home with his mother (Lene Marie Christensen) who is struggling to raise two other children without a male breadwinner. Yearning to escape from the imprisonment of life under the family roof and claim his place amongst the upper echelons of the local criminal community he starts to moonlight for a rival boss and unwittingly triggers a war between the competing factions. Brother Andy (Oscar Dyekjaer Giese) tosses away his schoolbooks and joins his sibling on a mission that will have repercussions which will be felt for the rest of their lives…

Developed over eighteen months, the storyline was crafted after the director studied the area and its criminal communities with the precision of an anthropologist. Continuing the approach employed in R of engaging members from the area to play roles instead of casting established professional actors Noer is committed to conveying an accurate sense of social realism whilst playing with the conventions of a familiar genre.

Real life brothers Gustav and Oscar Dyekjaer Giese were cast as leads after their mother answered a request on Facebook and sent them along to audition. The director could instantly see the depth of their relationship and knew he had found a pair bristling with raw talent that was equipped for the challenging task of creating two characters bonded by blood that were constantly competing to be crowned senior member of the family.

With R the director formulated a way of making movies that used the screenplay as a blueprint for the story’s structure, allowing performers to internalize what the script was asking from them and improvise. The end results were a composite of scripted moments and primal honesty plucked from the actor’s life experiences. Whilst shooting Northwest actors were specifically instructed not to look at the script during shooting and had to rely on their memories of where characters were supposed to be at the end of a specific scene. Without recourse to the printed text, Noer’s screen talent created new and more authentic dialogue. Encouraged to their character’s inner truth the cast of players drew from their own experiences of living in a crime-ridden and socially deprived region.

Shot in a documentary style, this hard hitting thriller is underscored by a streak of mordant humour. A shock-filled eye-opening film, Northwest’s recreation of a life trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty and criminality is so successful the film deserves to be placed alongside La Haine, Christiane F, and the Pusher trilogy as peerless examples of European cinema shining a light onto the forgotten and neglected who roam amongst us but are imprisoned by inequality and circumstance.

Northwest is available to order from Amazon.