Informer Review: Amazon’s UK Series Offers A Smart, Captivating Crime Thriller

Complexity in crime dramas too often devolves into dreary complication, making for a narrative where the sheer amount of stuff happening is meant to make up for the two-dimensional characters at its core. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Amazon’s UK import Informer, a crime thriller that, despite not being a six-episode adaptation of the hit ‘90s song of the same name from Canadian rapper Snow, delivers a smart, captivating series that’s worthy of a binge-watch. 

The series is the latest in a string of solid UK crime dramas making their way to the US via one streaming service or another. Informer is in the same category as the Agatha Christie adaptations on Prime Video, the upcoming The ABC Murders and last year’s Ordeal By Innocence, as well as Netflix’s Bodyguard and Collateral. And while this drama is mostly akin to the likes of Collateral, particularly its politically-tinged procedural narrative, it also bears some thematic resemblance to HBO’s Emmy-winning miniseries The Night Of, in terms of its depiction of how institutions like the law can so easily take advantage of people who find themselves on the margins of society because of the color of their skin. 

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The series follows Raza (Nabhaan Rizwan), a British-Pakistani man who winds up in legal trouble after being picked up for drug possession when he brings a young woman suffering an overdose to the emergency room. Writers Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani don’t attempt to moralize Raza’s dalliance with party drugs, and nor do they attempt to obfuscate the reasons why good deeds don’t go unpunished. The premiere episode, ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ avoids holding the audience’s hand, allowing viewers to figure out for themselves whether or not a cop would have frisked Raza in the hospital had he been white.

Nabhaan Rizwan and Roger Jean Nsengiyumva in Informer Amazon

What follows is a morally complex story about the lengths those charged with keeping their country safe from terrorism will go to get the job done, and how often those efforts conflict with a person’s civil rights. As such, Informer takes an interesting approach to its story, dealing with several narrative threads at once as Raza is recruited (i.e., coerced) to become an informant by Gabe Waters (Paddy Considine), a former undercover cop who is now working for the Counter Terrorism Unit in London, and Holly Morten (Bel Powley), an ambitious newcomer to the squad who soon discovers aspects of her partner’s dark past may not be wholly forgotten. 

The series is deliberate without being slow, taking its time to weave its entertaining procedural elements in with some worthwhile and fascinating explorations of its main characters inner lives. Throw in a flash forward that involves Gabe’s wife, Emily (Jessica Raine), as a potential victim of a mass shooting (that’s largely hinted to be connected to Gabe’s endeavors with one or more of his confidential informants) and you’ve got an engrossing thriller that doesn’t play down to its genre trappings. 

It’s hard to say who’s the star of the show, as Informer is well-acted from top to bottom, with each character wholly owning the scenes they’re in. Rizwan is striking in his debut, playing Raza with a welcome sense of ease, even as character begins to feel the walls closing in around him. Powley portrays Holly with an interesting sort of detachment, which is a little confounding at first, but helps make for a memorable dinner with Gabe and Emily. 

Paddy Considine and Bel Powley in Informer Amazon

Considine unsurprisingly plays well against whomever his scene partner is, but particularly when he’s offering a brusque but knowing bit of advice to Holly. At times he seems like a time bomb waiting to go off, and others he’s strangely empathetic, especially to his CI’s, whom he informs Holly are never “you’re friend,” only to later tell her their role necessitates them becoming their informant’s only friend. Those kinds of exchanges add to the show’s rich and layered world, one that also includes a terrific performance from Roger Jean Nsengiyumva as Dadir Hassan, the drug-dealing brother of one of Gabe’s informants who turns up murdered because he might have information on a potential terrorist plot in London. Raza strikes up a friendship with Dadir while spending the night in jail, and it’s that relationship that engenders him to the audience, while also endangering him as soon as he becomes an asset for Gabe. 

What Informer does well is to know when to go all-in on its central plot and when to put it on the back burner. Hour-long episodes move back and forth between traditional cop stuff — following CCTV cameras, interrogating suspects, and the occasional bit of undercover work — but it also finds time to just sit back and watch as Gabe and Emily’s marriage threatens to fall apart, largely because neither can let go of the past, no matter how badly they want to put it behind them. That Gabe may be hiding a dark secret — his chest and back are still emblazoned with fascist tattoos from his time undercover — would normally be a sign the show has bitten off more than it can chew, but Informer demonstrates a commitment to both plot and character so early on that this potentially serious wrinkle in who the audience thinks Gabe is becomes an absorbing point of interest. 

At just six hours long, Informer can be a slightly long binge-watch or something you’ll want to dole out over a few days. It will likely work better as the latter, as each episode is fairly dense and has no problem approaching 60-minute mark. But even at that length, the episodes never feel overlong or tedious. Instead, the series just continues to ratchet up the tension on both sides of the law, to make for a truly smart, captivating thriller. 

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Informer streams on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, January 11, 2019.

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2019-01-10 07:01:11

The Orville Season 2 Review: A Focus On Relationships Drives An Uneven Premiere

Peter Macon Scott Grimes and J. Lee in The Orville Season 2 FOX

If the season 2 premiere of The Orville is any indication, the not-quite Star Trek spoof from series creator and star, Seth MacFarlane, has found its footing and maybe its identity in telling smaller, more character-driven stories, that better serve its sometimes confounding mix of sincerity and irreverence. The series may have been a hit with audiences when it aired on FOX last year, but it didn’t strike a similar chord with critics, who took issue with the show’s often awkward balance of broad humor and earnest dramatic storytelling. Add to that the feeling that The Orville was really just a collection of not-great Stark Trek fan fiction, and you had a series that was destined to irk someone, in some way or another. 

The catch was, of course, that The Orville wasn’t meant to be as divisive as it was. Clearly designed to be a crowd-pleaser, the series ultimately fell short in that endeavor. But, after its first season, the show returns with a late-2018 premiere that was boosted by its post-football slot on FOX. Moreover, MacFarlane’s sci-fi series makes its surprisingly quiet return with a softer, less ambitious, but more successful character-driven episode that, despite still struggling to balance its tone, feels like a template for a more worthwhile season of television. 

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‘Ja’loja’ doesn’t have the most auspicious of beginnings, as a one-off joke from the first season about Bortus’ (Peter Macon) biology turns into the engine that ultimately drives the plot for the hour. Requiring the ship to alter its course so that Bortus can participate in an alien urination ritual is the sort of thing that’s stymied The Orville in that past, as MacFarlane, who wrote and directed the episode, attempts to cut the situation both ways: as an earnest depiction of an alien culture, right down to the specifics of their biological functions, and as a puerile joke machine about humorless aliens traveling to their home planet to relieve themselves annually in front of loved ones. 

Seth MacFarlane in The Orville Season 2 Premiere FOX

Micturation jokes aside, ‘Ja’loja’ reveals MacFarlane’s renewed handle on what it means for his characters to be aboard the Orville, and how they interact with one another. To pull this off, he opts for a series of disparate plots involving Ed’s (MacFarlane) feelings for his ex-wife Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), which are further complicated by her new relationship with Orville schoolteacher Cassius (Chris Johnson). In addition to being a nice-enough guy who doesn’t get bent out of shape when Ed does a drive by on Kelly’s window, Cassius is involved in a spat between Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) and the parents of a trouble maker who’s becoming a bad influence on her son, Marcus (B.J. Tanner). Meanwhile, Gordon (Scott Grimes) and Alara (Halston Sage) find themselves navigating the choppy romantic waters aboard the Orville, as each tries (and fails) to launch a new relationship. 

It’s incredibly low-stakes stuff, and that proves to be the premiere’s saving grace. With the exception of the Bortus-related bathroom humor, ‘Ja’loja’ doesn’t have the same kind of high-minded aspirations that got the show into trouble in the first season. Instead, the hour simply allowed these characters (human and otherwise) to handle personal situations with varying degrees of success. Most of the jokes still landed with a thud, but there was a breezy quality to the interpersonal banter that hinted at the show’s increased understanding of who its characters are and who they may eventually become. A highlight of the hour was Ed and Kelly’s exchanges, which felt a bit like MacFarlane reaching for a Sam and Diane-like dynamic. That comparison seemed more accurate as the hour found its characters mingling with one another in the ship’s dining and bar area more than, say, their quarters or on the bridge. Add to that the addition of Jason Alexander as Olix, the ship’s jazz-loving slinger of drinks, and you have the potential for The Orville to shed the spoof persona it never really wanted in the first place, to become a workable workplace comedy with some dramatic elements. 

Whether or not ‘Ja’loja’ proves to be a new norm for The Orville remains to be seen, but even as a possible one-off episode, it raises the bar in terms of the show’s overall quality and presentation. There’re hints of where the series may be going, especially with regard to the new dark matter cartographer, Lt. Tyler (Michaela McManus). While Tyler may help move the series away from watching Ed pine for his ex, it may also have to address challenges of its own, particularly with regard to a potential love triangle between Tyler, Ed, and Gordon. That could be tricky territory, given the show’s history, but if it affords The Orville more chances for smaller, character-driven hours, it could be a conflict worth exploring. 

Next: Winter TV 2019: Premiere Dates For All The New & Returning Series

The Orville season 2 continues with ‘Primal Urges’ on Thursday, January 3 @9pm on FOX.

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2018-12-31 01:12:46

Bunkheads Review: An Actual Zombie Apocalypse Would Be Funnier

It’s safe to say that the zombie craze which dominated nearly all forms of media for years now has more or less run its course. Like humanity in the face of the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead’s ratings are in decline, aside from a few interesting twists on the same scenario (The Girl With All the Gifts, Train to Busan, and Cargo, for instance) it’s been a minute since a zombie movie felt like a necessary part of popular culture, and, for the most part, television seems more concerned with aping the Game of Thrones model than hopping aboard a train that has clearly left the station. As such, the web comedy turned Amazon Prime Video series, Bunkheads, not only fails to execute a fresh take on the genre, but the series is so woefully unfunny it makes sitting through an actual zombie apocalypse seem preferable. 

Creator and writer Will Gong and director Lauren Kilxbul have a sound idea: four people trapped in a bunker a year into the zombie apocalypse find it’s as difficult dealing with the living as it is the dead — walking or otherwise. But, while the idea is a solid one, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, the only way someone watching Bunkheads would know its a comedy is by reading the logline, which describes the four survivors as “zany” (spoiler: they’re not), but instead should just label them as what they are: intolerable. Bunkheads suffers from a problem common among many comedies today: it equates obnoxious with humorous, and thinks characters flinging barbed observations at one another is the same as following a joke through from setup to punchline.

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Films like Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, and Zombieland all stand as proof that there’s humor to be mined in worlds ravaged by the undead. Bunkheads however, treats its biggest selling point — i.e., the zombie apocalypse — as an afterthought, focusing instead on the interpersonal squabbles of its four survivors, Cash (Khalif Boyd), Matt (Josh Covitt), Kip (Chris O’Brien), and Dani (Carly Turro). Again, the idea is full of potential: the relative safety of a fully stocked underground bunker mitigates the danger of the hordes of undead skulking around outside, but, as the saying goes: hell is other people. At times it almost seems as though Gong is aiming to make that the joke of the series, suggesting that, for any one of these characters, facing the end of the world alone would be preferable to spending another minute with the other three. But the writing never fully commits to that idea — or any other idea, really. Instead, Bunkheads is content being a mundane sitcom that unfolds within a very specific setting. The problem is, the series only occasionally wants to acknowledge its backdrop, as if zombies were tacked on at the last minute as a way of drumming up interest for its crowdfunding efforts. 

That Bunkheads only occasionally offers evidence of its characters’ dire circumstances stems from what is clearly the series’ very limited means. But in more capable hands, having what appears to be one-tenth the production budget of a public access television show could have worked in the show’s favor. Unfortunately, Bunkheads demonstrates none of the creative inventiveness born of such necessity. Instead, the series most often settles for non-jokes, like Matt being excited about finding fish sticks (never mind the obvious questions of why someone would think perishables would be viable a year into the apocalypse), or worse, Kip. Yes, Bunkheads manages to turn an entire character into a litany of bad jokes. Kip, an obnoxious white guy who moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a famous rapper, is obsessed with Dani, and, as the show reveals in episode 2, is also a virgin. Even in the most skilled hands it would be a challenge to turn any of the above into serviceable comedy, and Bunkheads handles the material about as well as you might expect. 

A very generous read would suggest Bunkheads’ aim is to mine humor from the idea that each character’s one-dimensionality makes them particularly ill-suited to survive in such a harsh environment, and that therein lies the crux of the series. But time and again, the show’s writing works in opposition to any idea larger than: people in close proximity to one another tend to get on each other’s nerves. Credit is due to everyone involved for making a go at this project with such limited resources, but the fact remains that Bunkheads doesn’t work as either a comedy or fresh take on the zombie genre. 

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Bunkheads is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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2018-12-13 02:12:03

The Gifted Fall Finale Review: The Series Delivers A Big Win For Mutankind

With a title like ‘gaMe changer,’ the merry mutants of FOX’s The Gifted get a big checkmark in the win column, something that will, with any luck, alter the core dynamics of the show. It’s not too often that a television series will call its shots like that (let’s face it, it’s pretty ballsy for any show to flat-out call any episode a “game changer”), much less actually pull it off. Sure, creator Matt Nix and his writers’ room still have to follow through with the events seen here in a creative and meaningful way, but until then, The Gifted can revel in the fact that it delivered an episode that could well be the turning point for the series as a whole.  

Since FOX’s X-Men-adjacent series premiered, it was always working to limit the one thing most viewers were tuning in for: mutants. It’s long been an X-Men storytelling tradition that the easiest way to combat the sometimes godlike powers of Marvel’s mutants is to turn them off completely or have them somehow be on the fritz. The film series has often resorted to that tired plot device in one form or another, particularly in movies like The Wolverine, Logan, and Deadpool 2, just to provide some sense of balance and give the normies of the world a chance against characters whose off-the-charts powers make them kinda boring to watch from a storytelling standpoint. And to The Gifted’s credit, the series has found a way to upend that cliche and potentially explore a world where not only are mutants of varying power levels running free, they’re taking a cue from ol’ Howard Beale. That is: they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore. 

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Mad mutants running around with no one detaining them or keeping their powers in check certainly stands the chance of livening up what can sometimes be a rather plodding series. And in case viewers were wondering what this brave new world Reeva, Polaris, Esme, and the rest of the Inner Circle are helping create will look like, The Gifted is here to remind viewers that Rebecca (Anjelica Bette Fellini) is (or was) what happens when a world treats powerful, emotionally undeveloped people like garbage and them lets them loose. 

The show has been building toward an end to the Rebecca situation for a little while now, and after she turned someone inside out and was later put in solitary confinement at Reeva’s request, the show effectively set the stage for the probably psychotic mutant with a niche power set to cause some trouble. To that end, when Andy sets his would-be girlfriend free and offers to run away with her, Rebecca’s response works to foreshadow the kind of mayhem the world of The Gifted can likely expect when the show returns next year. 

Normally, flashbacks for characters in the X-Men series are basically the same story over and over again. Rebecca’s is really no different. After apparently nearly killing her teacher and showing little in the way of remorse — or any feeling, really — about it whatsoever, she gets a visit from Sentinel Services, who won’t even let her finish the inside out pancakes before they drag her away. Although the scene is reminiscent of so many other “My Child is a Mutant” flashbacks that’ve been seen or read time and time again, the twist here is that, well, Rebecca’s parents, were probably right to fear her. The scene at the breakfast table was similar to that of ‘It’s a Good Life’ from Twilight Zone: The Movie, in that a supernaturally powerful child is ostensibly holding their family hostage. 

It’s one of the few times The Gifted asks the viewer to understand what made a mutant act violently without also overtly asking for the audience to sympathize with them. And that grey area is where the series has spent a great deal of its time since the arrival of the Inner Circle, and, more so, since Andy and Polaris joined their ranks. As such, the show turns its game-changing event into something that, interestingly enough, creates as many problems as it solves. 

But while The Gifted splashes around in those murky waters, it finds a clearer approach when it comes to its two other primary storylines. In the first Reed, Kate, and Lauren discover the kindly old researcher willing to help Reed out with his X-gene run amok isn’t just working to suppress dangerous mutant abilities and help those who want to lead normal lives, she’s actively in search of a way to eradicate mutantkind. Something she has in common with Jace Turner and the hate group known as the Purifiers. While the series isn’t subtle with the allusions it makes regarding the would-be civilian militia, it does at least give the storyline a frightening real-world feel, one that, sadly, never ceases to be effective. And it’s particularly effective considering John is about to be on the receiving end of the group’s machinations. 

In all, ‘gaMe changer’ lives up to its title, delivering an opportunity for The Gifted to actually chance the circumstances of the world is has created, and to dramatically upset the status quo going forward. Whether or not it follows through on this promise effectively remains to be seen, but perhaps when the series returns in 2019 it will do so by entering into a brave new world. 

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The Gifted returns on January 1, 2019 on FOX.

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2018-12-04 07:12:08

‘Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch’ makes off with $66M at box office

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” sledded past mixed reviews and made off with $66 million for Universal Pictures to top the weekend North American box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Last week’s…Click To Continue

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Six films hit the silver screen this week

‘Suspiria’Modern “Suspiria,” which adapts the cult classic of Dario Argento, revolves around the mysterious events at a dance school as a young dancer begins her studies there.Directed by Luca Guadagnino,…Click To Continue

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Derviş Zaim: Right, truth, conscience are most important components of my movies

The 8th International Crime and Punishment Film Festival starts today with a rich screening program that seeks to enhance awareness, communication, solidarity and long-term collaboration on an international…Click To Continue

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Malatya, the meeting point for international film festivals

Organized by the Malatya Metropolitan Municipality and with the contributions of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and the Tourism General Directorate of Cinema and Malatya Governorship, the 8th Malatya…Click To Continue

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Comprehensive Ronit Elkabetz retrospective showing at Pera Film

Paying homage to Ronit Elkabetz, who created stunning female characters fighting for their freedom against boundaries determined by society, Pera Film is offering a selection of her films titled ‘Beyond…Click To Continue

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Former shoe factory in Istanbul awaits cinephiles

Kundura Cinema is organizing films, thematic programs and side events at the Beykoz Kundura building, a part of Turkey’s industrial cultural heritage. It is inviting movie lovers to a different movie experience…Click To Continue

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