WATCH CLOSELY: Spring Cleaning
By Peg Aloi
Spring! It means different things for different folks. In New England we know the weather will continue to dish up wintry conditions when it wants to, but we also know to enjoy those daffodils poking up, those sunny days of warm damp breezes in between the days of chill and mud. Here at Watch Closely we’re doing a bit of spring cleaning and recommending some fairly recent viewing choices you may have missed.
Peg’s Pick of the Week: The Australian series Mr. Inbetween has been described as a “black comedy-crime drama” hybrid. That’s accurate, but it’s more along the lines of a “deep psychological mindfuck that sometimes goes dressed as a character-driven thriller.” The series is based on 2005 cult film The Magician, created by and starring Scott Ryan as a career criminal trying to balance skullduggery with a normal personal life. Ryan is one of the principal writers for in Mr. Inbetween, and once more he stars as Ray Shoesmith. Ray is the guy that Sydney gangsters go to for all kinds of nefarious tasks, from intimidating deadbeats to cleaning up blood-drenched scenes of mayhem. Ray is divorced and shares custody of his sweet but sassy daughter, who, as she grows older, begins to suspect that her father is involved in some shady business. He also provides support for his brother Bruce (Nicholas Cassim, in a powerful performance), who has a progressive neurological disease, and must, on occasion, deal with their estranged father. Ray also has a new girlfriend (Brooke Satchwell), who adores him but has no idea what he does for a living. Ray has associates and friends, like the impulsive but loyal Gary (played by Justin Rosniak), whom he trusts to have his back. As various criminal entanglements heat up, Ray finds himself looking over his shoulder, anticipating betrayal. This series is sharply written, darkly funny, wonderfully acted and directed (by Gringo’s Nash Edgerton), and wholly unique in its melding of intricate character development and intense scenes of criminal bedlam. Three seasons of episodes that are barely 30 minutes long makes this an easy and compelling binge. (Now on Hulu)
How Did I Miss This? You’re forgiven if you missed the film The Stranger, which came out on Netflix in 2022. It slipped under the radar during the frenzy of year-end awards chatter, but it’s one of the best films of last year. This gripping thriller, based on a true story of a child abduction and murder in Australia, stars two of the finest actors working today: Joel Edgerton (brother of Nash Edgerton who directed Mr. Inbetween) and Sean Harris (the kindhearted head chef in Spencer). Of course, you may recall that both actors also recently starred in two medieval dramas: the excellent 2021 film The Green Knight, and before that in 2019’s The King (which Edgerton also co-wrote). Edgerton plays Mark, a detective who has just started a new undercover operation. Riding a bus, he meets Henry (Harris), a man down on his luck who could use a friend. Henry, who’s had a rough life, puts his trust in Mark, and an odd friendship develops between them. This is no simple game of cat and mouse: Mark’s determination to solve the case clashes with his compassion toward Henry, who may be a suspect, and this tension weighs on his personal and professional decisions. This narrative feature debut by Thomas M. Wright (also a fine actor, seen in Top of the Lake) is tightly written and beautifully acted.
Eye Candy: I occasionally had mixed feelings watching The Serpent Queen, a period miniseries about Catherine of Medici, played with sly passion by the always-brilliant Samantha Morton. While many of the show’s trappings are firmly in the heritage genre (like the opulent locations and stunning costumes), there are also anachronistic bits of dialogue and use of contemporary music that sometimes felt a bit off. It’s not that such gambits don’t occasionally work artistically, but in this case the modern spins felt smug, even forced at times. In addition, there’s a somewhat clunky framing device. Catherine tells the story of her rise to power to a seemingly guileless young servant (Sennia Nanua), which allows for flashbacks and surprising twists. Still, this is a fascinating story of a complicated monarch, an Italian nobody who somehow ascended to the French throne. The acting is first rate, with terrific performances by Colm Meaney, Charles Dance, Ludivine Sagnier, Liv Hill, Ray Panthaki (seen in Boiling Point and Marcella), and many other familiar faces, including an uncredited (why?) Rupert Everett, chewing the delicious scenery as the Holy Roman Emperor. Come for the fabulous acting and royal intrigue, stay for the gorgeous costumes by Karen Muller Serrau (At Eternity’s Gate). (Now on Prime)
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Alliance for Women Film Journalists. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Time, Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found on substack.