Marshland (La isla minima): two out-of-favour Madrid detectives are sent out to the middle of nowhere to investigate the disappearance of two girls; they soon uncover a serial killer and potential police involvement. The main drama of the film comes from lots of complex and conflicting relationships; the detectives and the villagers, the villagers with each other, the detectives and their new boss, and even the mismatched investigators themselves with their ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ approaches. Aesthetically, and tonally, this is very similar to HBO’s True Detective (although they came out at the same time); the palette is dominated by earthy, natural, and rustic colors & locations, which help the odd top-down drone shots of ethereal landscapes really stand out. The film also holds an interesting Spanish angle too; being set at the start of the 80s in a ‘New Spain’, but calling back to the Franco dictatorship and exploring how large and looming the shadow of that time still is. Marshland is a very well made, excellently acted picture with a sufficiently eerie & suspenseful score: however, there’s nothing particularly fresh or exciting in the story itself… it’s just been tarted up and presented in a more unique setting than normal.
The Night Manager: a hotel manager is recruited by the British Gov to infiltrate a ruthless arms dealer’s inner circle. I can’t remember the last time the BBC threw this much money, stars, and talent at one project. Yet for such an accomplished cast, it felt like a faux pas to cast the leading lady as a relatively unknown; she struggles to keep up with the big and entertaining performances of villainous Roper (Laurie), heroic Pine (Hiddleston), and vivacious Corky (Hollander). Style-wise, this feels like a very expensive pitch for Loki to become 007: he even has the audacity to order a Vodka Martini in the final episode (WTF M8!?!) It’s all a bit ‘classic Flemming’, boasting the hallmarks of an old-school Bond film; from the decadent credits through to stellar production values and globe-trotting espionage. The disappointment is that it only dips a toe in the Bond waters: the plot’s far-fetched, but not too daft; the villain is dastardly, but not a megalomaniac; the hero is sufficiently heroic, but not an espionage badass… At six episodes, the setup, ending, and central plot of infiltrating an arm’s dealer feel rushed – sacrificing your belief in the story for as much drama, murder, action and boobs that the run-time will allow. The ending also feels quite spineless – turning its back on the pulpy / hardboiled vibe that the story built and opting for a happy, wide-open-for-a-sequel finale. Overall, The Night Manager looks fantastic, and is completely watchable… because it’s actually more of a saucy and sensational spy romp, than the classy espionage thriller it’s presented as.
Neon Flesh (Carne de neón) [Minor spoilers]: a small-time pimp opens a brothel to impress his mum, unbeknownst to him juggling prostitutes, gangsters and his crazy friends isn’t that easy! From the first frame this stinks of the last 15 years of thugz ‘n’ drugz type geezer movies; a ton of characters introduced one by one with quick cuts, in-frame text and cheeky chappy explanatory narration… it never really aims higher than that. A major weakness is that – although there’s sometimes good intentions in the longer run – individual story elements include: selling a baby, a transvestite getting their meat shot off, buying and disciplining trafficked women, playing Alzheimer’s for laughs, animal porn, a random woman ending up in a porno… it makes the characters hard to like, and some situations difficult to watch. Although it’s not original, the film’s style is perhaps the biggest positive; fast cuts, punchy visuals, slick camerawork… it looks great. You can find a handful of standout performances by heavyweight actors that don’t deserve to be tucked away in a film this schloky – there’s also a few moments of solid drama in the final act, but by then it’s too late. The major downfall with Neon Flesh is the juxtaposed premise: a ‘slapstick comedy/crime caper set in a whorehouse‘. Trying to juggle the upbeat tone and loaded subject matter is too big a task for the director – and although I can usually see through gratuitous violence, smut, and bad taste – this one really goes to town.