John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Crime show, dashcam documentary worth watching

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The Swedish series, "The Bridge" from 2011, has inspired several international remakes, including an American one, but I was never interested in any of them, the original being engaging and just a little bit insane. But this German version was intriguing and revealed itself to be wholly original, rejecting anything that could be called derivative to create a series that is in many ways the exact opposite of the original.

The only thing they really have in common is the basic premise that sets off events — a murdered body is found right on the border between two countries, which cause an unlikely alliance between two detectives from the respective countries. In "Pagan's Peak," it's by-the-book overachieving German detective Ellie Stocker (Julia Jentsch) and lazy, corrupt Austrian detective Gedeon Winter (Nicholas Ofczarek). As the investigation begins, Stocker is enthusiastic and motivated, while Winter is preoccupied with his own woes and puts Stocker at arm's length.

Things change though as Krampus performance groups and a hyper-masculine cult leader become wrapped up in the mystery. Winter becomes more engaged and compelled to bring the investigation to its correct conclusion, while Stocker's life becomes secretly manipulated by the murderer.

As events unfold, the series becomes about two men, Winter and the murderer (Franz Hartwig ), using Stocker as their inspiration in self-realization. Winter's is more healthy, but it may be too late as Stocker's situation becomes more chaotic. The narrative takes an unexpected turn near the conclusion and goes down some dead-end paths previously that serve more thematically. The leads are compelling and the snow-covered mountain setting foreboding, and everything comes together to make "Pagan Peak" a brooding and complicated crime show.

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It's rare that I call a documentary insane, but it's also rare that a documentary truly earns it. "The Road Movie" has achieved that dubious honor, but it truly deserves it. Compiled entirely of footage from dashcams, it's a montage of disaster and rage that ends up explaining a lot about the recent history of Russia, and it will even make you laugh while it does that.

It first came to light that so many Russians had dash cams in their car when a spontaneous event, like the meteor that tore through the sky in 2013, was captured in video by an unexpected number of drivers. Dash cams are hugely popular in Russia as a way to combat liability in accidents, to avoid false allegations in traffic violations, and, most importantly, to protect themselves against prodigious insurance scams that infect the roads there. Given the rampant and threatening hostility "The Road Movie" reveals, dash cams must also help in sorting out the victims in road-rage incidents.

"The Road Movie" is the kind of film that has footage of a meteor barreling down to earth and it barely registers in your brain by the time the film is finished. It's one of the least captivating moments. Of course, there are literally dozens of bizarre, freak, out-of-nowhere accidents that you witness, but the most jarring moments are those involving scary people. And there are apparently a lot of scary people in Russia. They just carry around sledgehammers and axes in their back seat — one false move and they are posturing at you whether you've done something or not.

What results is a revealing montage of expletive-filled anger that's sometimes amusing, sometimes horrifying, but that always widens the picture of Russia that's conveyed somewhat in political snapshots we get here. It's a country that has slowly slipped into authoritarianism, where Putin appeared at a televised event behind Yeltsin and has never gone away, instead appointing governors and changing laws and figuring out ways to keep power. As a captive people, they seem to take out their frustration by creating an alternate Road Warrior reality game on their own roads. They're quicker to yell at someone passing them on the highway than they are someone occupying their country — which, if you look at our own country, isn't surprising.


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