Reviews — January 3

Because Europa, the sixth-moon of Jupiter, is largely covered with a sheet of ice, scientists have speculated that the possibility of water beneath means life might exist there. And that bit of astronomical fact provides the premise for the film “Europa Report,” a terrifically exciting movie from Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero.

Unlike bigger, enormously expensive films like “Star Trek,” this low-budget gem is what science fiction ought to be — fictional narrative rooted in scientific fact. Or perhaps I should say, plausible fact.

Watching the film, which uses the “found footage” gimmick as a means of telling a story about NASA sending a team of astronauts to explore Europa, I found myself thinking: This is what it must have been like (sort of) for those who watched the first moon landing on TV in the ’60s. The thrill of exploring an environment humans have never walked.

Detractors complain that it’s slow. Well, it is, so the film may disappoint those who have come to equate science fiction with “Elysium” levels of explosive action. Cordero uses “slow” to build tension, and the story is stripped of nearly all dramatic contrivances — the shipboard romance, rivalry, villain, etc. It’s all about scientists working in space, exploring, grappling with difficult choices and trying to survive. And that’s exciting.

“Europa Report” (2013) Directed by Sebastian Cordero. Starring Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Daniel Wu, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Anamaria Marinca. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, peril.


A hungry wolf trots through the snow in northwest Sweden, slaking its appetite by chewing on frozen moose carcasses. Smelling blood, the wolf creeps into a tiny village at daybreak and finds another carcass, not yet frozen. It drags a large hunk of the meat into the woods, pulls off a shoe and begins to feast.

So begins “The Man from Beijing,” a sweeping and creepy novel by Henning Mankell, better known for his great series of books about world-weary detective Kurt Wallander.

This book, which introduces other characters just as intricately drawn, is one to read in the daytime with people around you; even so, you’ll want to lock your doors. It’s that good.

The Swedish wolf — which may not be the only wolf you’ll meet in “The Man from Beijing” — has discovered one of 19 victims of a mass murder so heinous, even cynical, experienced investigators have trouble dealing with it.

Almost every resident of the village has been killed, and killed horribly, on that morning in January 2006. Only one of the victims, a little boy, died quickly and painlessly. All the others, who were elderly and all related, were stabbed and hacked and bludgeoned to maximize their suffering.

When she hears about the murders, a judge in southern Sweden, Birgitta Roslin, realizes she is connected to two of the victims — her mother’s foster, and later adoptive, parents. As she searches the Internet for their surname, Andren, she discovers news of a similar mass killing in Nevada.

For the first time, the judge feels a curiosity about these people, and she drives to the scene and sneaks into the house in which her mother lived and her adoptive grandparents died.

What she finds there leads her to become involved in the investigation. It also leads to a parallel story that takes place in the 1860s, first in China, then in the U.S., where Chinese laborers helped built the railroads, and finally around the world to China again.

Eventually, the time periods and the locations collide dramatically.

Sweeping, as I said. The novel explores how one person’s actions affect another’s — and how lasting that impact can be.

“The Man from Beijing” by Henning Mankell, 2010, Knopf.

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