‘Babylon Berlin,’ bots gone bad v Boyle at his best

Babylon Berlin focuses on Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a police detective from Cologne, who is trying to forget past traumas when he is reassigned to Berlin.

Danny Boyle's 'Yesterday' (photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Boyle's 'Yesterday'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
You may have heard about Babylon Berlin, a rich and complex series about a detective looking into corruption in Weimar Germany in 1929. It has just become available in Israel on HOT VOD and NEXT TV, although it is actually a Netflix series that has aired two seasons abroad, starting two years ago. Based on novels by Volker Kutscher, it was cocreated by Tom Tykwer, the director who burst onto the international film scene over 20 years ago with the audacious drama Run Lola Run.
Babylon Berlin focuses on Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a police detective from Cologne, who is trying to forget past traumas when he is reassigned to Berlin. He teams up with Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), a young party girl who works as a typist when she can to support her entire family. Both are cynical and streetwise, but they quickly uncover conspiracies and intrigue that even they find shocking.
The series features a wonderful ensemble cast of some of the best character actors in Europe. Story lines include a freight train that gets hijacked, rivalries among police factions, organized crime syndicates that exploit police corruption, Communist revolutionaries, Soviet agents and upper-class reactionaries.
The Berlin you remember from Cabaret is front and center in many scenes that take place in the vibrant city nightlife, as is the decadence and decay that provided a fertile ground for the growth of Nazism.
This is a series that demands your full attention as few have in recent years, but anyone who invests time and energy in it will find it rewarding.
The latest robots-gone-wild series, following Westworld and Humans, is Better Than Us, a Russian show that streams on Netflix, and it’s better in many respects than the previous two.
In theme and execution, it’s similar to Humans and tells a contemporary story of a society in which robots have become commonplace and where a sophisticated new bot goes haywire and begins killing. But it’s more realistic, suspenseful and chilling than Humans, as it uses a police procedural format, plus a look at a detective’s troubled family, to tell a tale of corruption and greed that is about humanity as much as it’s about robots. It also has a creepy subplot – something all of these shows have had – about how quite a few human men prefer sexy looking robots to actual women, a theme that is as old as The Stepford Wives, but is done well here.
Another less successful Netflix offering is The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch, a Swiss movie about a young, ultra-Orthodox guy who falls for a Christian woman. The actors are appealing, but the movie is clichéd from start to finish. One unexpected plot turn features a cultish yoga/meditation group in Israel that helps Motti open up, although his parents were expecting him to find a Jewish bride in Israel.
The most purely fun movie this year, Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, will start running on HOT VOD and on Cellcom TV on November 19. It’s a movie with an absurd premise, but Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) bring it to life with such grace and charm that you forget how silly it is.
It tells the story of Jack (Himesh Patel), a guy who is completely devoted to a musical career which he can’t get off the ground. One day, after a weird electrical storm, he wakes up and discovers that he seems to be the only person in the world who has heard of The Beatles. Almost everything else is the same, but it’s as if the Fab Four never existed, so he can pretend to compose their music, which he does. It’s fun to watch his meteoric rise, and hearing Jack play the Beatles’ work will make you appreciate the power and beauty of their music more than ever.
Ultimately, the film is about accepting and appreciating reality.
If you want your kids to watch it with you, tell them that Lily James and Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) have supporting roles. It’s the perfect movie to watch if you want to forget the news this week but enjoy an intelligent entertainment.