On a lean start to the month of November, there’s a intriguing Limited Series on Amazon Prime, the start of Christmas-related content on Netflix, plus two more options.
Utopia (Amazon Prime) – Renowned author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects) evidently loved the 2014 British TV series Utopia, a crafty blend of comic book-geekdom, science fiction, conspiracy theory, and biological warfare/pandemics; as she set herself to create an American adaptation. It’s an 8-episode Limited Series that just dropped on Amazon, and given the subject matter of pandemics, it’s one of those series that now gets reviewed as ‘timely’ or ‘resonant to what’s happening now’. Criticized in 2014 for its gratuitous violence, be forewarned that this 2020 version is still not for the squeamish or faint of heart. When violence explodes, its done in a matter of fact way, but unflinching.
The premise basically has to with comic geeks who are devoted to a comic book called Dystopia, as it seems to have predicted the outbreak of Ebola, SARS, and other viruses. Now, it seems that the sequel, Utopia, has been ‘discovered’, and believing that it points the way to saving the world, the chase is on to acquire the single copy of the book. A shadowy organization known as Harvest has its own dubious reasons for wanting the comic book in its possession. John Cusack will be the most familiar face on the cast, and it’s great how he plays against type, as the villainous head of a biotech company. There’s something over-familiar about all this, but you can’t fault the production for its energy and frantic pacing. Think Stranger Things, but for adults.
Operation Christmas Drop (Netflix) – And we’re off to the races as the streaming services begin to inundate their programming with Thanksgiving or Christmas-inspired shows. This one falls in the latter category but with the distinct difference of being filmed in the tropical US territory of Guam. Apparently, the premise is based on an actual practice of military personnel airlifting humanitarian relief goods and dropping them over the remote islands near Guam. It’s a cherished custom that you can’t fault; and what this film does it turn into rom-com opportunity.
At the center of the ‘rom’ are by the books Congressional aide Erica (Kat Graham), and maverick Air Force Captain Andrew (Vikings star Alexander Ludwig). They’re an appealing couple and Graham is especially adept at throwing herself into character. Ludwig just has to play his most disarming, charming self, and make the female watchers all wish he’d take them for an airlift. It’s the narrative that peters out and we really get by on the charisma and chemistry of our two stars.
Rogue City (Netflix France) – This is almost like a throwback to the gritty, crime dramas of yesteryear. The location is Marseille, France and the original French title is Bronx – which refers to a hostile, edgy situation. This one is all about police corruption, and frankly, more police corruption. It’s really a one note narrative that just piles on the violence, and uses any and every excuse to show off just how dark and visceral we can get. Enter at your own peril.
While stars of yesterday Jean Reno & Claudia Cardinale are in the cast, that’s more for branding of some sort – actually unnecessary given where this film wants to go. Written by an ex-cop, we’re expected to believe this is all based on his own experiences, or his knowing this kind of violent fantasy is exactly what the predominantly Male, Action genre audience is looking for – and apparently, he’s right as this zoomed up the charts. Lannick Gautry & Stanislas Merhar are the real ‘stars’ carrying the film, and Olivier Marchal directs.
Love & Anarchy (Netflix Sweden) – What does it say about this 8-episode Limited Series, sold as a Romance Drama, when the very first sequence introducing us to our female protagonist, young mother Sofie (Ida Engvoll), has her masturbating in the locked bathroom while her son is shouting about where his hockey helmet can be found. Max (Bjorn Mosten) is a temp, who somehow gets on Sofie’s nerves … until he catches her doing her favorite thing in the office and records it on his mobile phone. What follows is a cat and mouse game of egging each to do more and more outlandish things in the office.
Said office is a publishing company where Sofie is engaged to transition the concern to the digital age. Hello! It’s 2020 and it’s only now that this publishing company is going digital? There’s something being said here about social mores, sexuality, the office world and personal habits; but the situations all feel cliched as it tries to take on more issues than it should be handling. It’s when the story concentrates on Sofie & Max that this series stays watchable.