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BBC’s The Missing

For anybody who’s a fan of mysteries centred on missing people, cold cases, decades-old secrets, multiple timelines, meticulous police procedural intrigue and deeply affecting human drama, I’d highly recommend BBC’s The Missing, Europe’s answer of sorts to HBO’s True Detective. This series not only contains everything I just listed above, but it executes each one of those elements pretty much flawlessly, and is one of those shows that compels you to put your phone down to track every detail, absorb every frame and immerse oneself completely, a seldom attained state of storytelling nirvana. So there are two seasons, done in anthology form, the only connective tissue between them besides thematic material being Tchéky Karyo’s deeply pragmatic, selfless freelance investigator Julien Baptiste, a sort of St. Francis of ex-cop PI’s who goes where he is needed, compelled on an elemental level to help out families whose children have disappeared.

Season one sees Baptiste assist a couple from the UK (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor) whose young son disappeared into thin air one night while they are vacationing in a small French village. The police work tirelessly, it becomes a media sensation and two separate timelines eight years apart from one another unfold in symbiotic parallels. This case not only affects the parents, Baptiste and the local police force but also has a ripple effect into the nearby towns and eventually all over the continent as it becomes a notorious mystery akin to that of Maddy McCann. It’s a taut, emotional, incredibly complex series of events that isn’t too sensationalist but feels organic, momentous and immediate. The second season, which I loved even more than the first, takes place over in Germany where a challenging mystery plays out with the backdrop of a military garrison and all the families involved. Baptiste is here investigating the reappearance of a girl named Alice Webster who vanished nearly a decade before and may have connections to yet another girl that he failed to find many years ago. Her parents (David Morrisey and Keeley Hawes) are just glad to have their baby back until bit by bit doubt creeps in and it seems like something about her is.. off. So begins a series of revelations, callbacks to an older mystery years before in the Iraqi war and the ever present yet unseen presence of a monster who has been kidnapping girls for a long time.

This is peak long form television and taken as a pair of dual stories glued together by Karyo’s Baptiste, it’s a near perfect achievement in storytelling, a collective sixteen episodes that feel as if literal years of content has been presented in real time. I prefer the second season because it feels more well rounded and cohesive as a cinematic story, also it’s a lot less bleak than the first. These girls have been through hell and it has bled out into every other character around them, which is part of this show’s genius; this isn’t just about the victims, the perpetrators and the authorities who try to make sense of it all. This affects everyone who touches it or even hears about it, detail and careful attention is paid right down to the second, third and fourth tier characters until we feel immersed in a tangible world of human beings and every complicated, contradictory, evil, compassionate, inexplicable and every other act under the sun that they’re capable of. The acting is absolutely 100% top quality all around, not a false note or weak performance in sight and wonderful work provided by folks like Jason Flemyng, Roger Allam, Laura Fraser, Anastasia Hille, Olafur Darri Olaffsson, Abigail Hardingham, Saïd Taghmoui, Titus De Voogt, Eric Godon, Ken Stott and many more. Simply put: if you’re looking for a binge-worthy, addictive, intellectually stimulating, emotionally nourishing, all-bases-covered piece of programming, look no further because this is about as top shelf as anything gets. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now, too.

-Nate Hill

Marcus Nispel’s Conan The Barbarian: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ve never seen any of the original Conan films with Ahnuld (I know, get the torches and pitchforks), so I don’t really have anything to compare Marcus Nispel’s remake to, but on it’s own I found it to be a solid, servicable sword and sandal outing with a welcome hard R rating and some neat work from legendary actors. Jason Momoa was fresh of his Game Of Thrones stint, jumping right into a very similar role as iconic Conan, a musclebound soldier of fortune on a grisly quest to exact revenge against warlord who decimated his village when he was but a pup. Momoa exudes a different aura than I imagine Schwarzenegger must have, a stoic, silent tunnel vision style as opposed to posing theatrically. It works, but it’s a new Conan from the one I’ve seen in many a trailer and snippet on tv, that’s for sure. My favourite part of the film is the extended prologue, which just somehow feels like the most grounded part, whereas everything else is almost cartoonish, reminding me of stuff like The Mummy. The opening is terrific though, introducing us to a young Conan (Leo Howard) and his father Corin (Ron Perlman, who else?), living in their nomadic village on the edge of nowhere. Enter tyrannical villain Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his super freaky daughter Marique (Ivana Staneva), played later down the line by Rose McGowan, before she got all lame on us. Laying waste to Conan’s home and killing countless people including Corin, he is left to breed fearsome vengeance for years, until he sets out into the wide world on a journey to find Zym and mess him up real good. The story is standard, the action is well staged by Nispel, who has a golden eye for spectacularly orchestrated displays of violence in his films, and pulls no punches here. He also casts roles on the nose, and has for years. Lang is in overdrive, practically frothing at the mouth and turning Zym into something scary indeed. McGowan is straight out of a Takahashi Miike film, all bone white hissing snarls and needle sharp appendages, a hellcat with supreme bloodlust that you just don’t want to encounter. Momoa has the brawn for Conan, but a few extra syllables of dialogue wouldn’t have hurt, if only to round the guy out some more and give Jason something to say, which he rarely gets to do in his work it seems. I think parts of the film, especially the finale, were somewhat ruined for me by the catastrophically bad 3D they used (when oh when will they learn with the damned 3D), so I feel like a Blu Ray revisit is nigh, in which I can fully appreciate some of the set pieces without being reminded of a popup book. It’s a good time at the movies, but like I said, I have nothing to compare it to as far as Conan goes.