New Tricks- BBC crime drama

I’m a sucker for cop shows. I find a new series and watch it through to the last episode while sticking to a diet of no more than one a day. Bosch was a recent favorite; a grainy late age LA detective with the stomach for justice over politics. He had a great side kick in Jamie Hector (also know for appearances in The Wire).

I was looking for a new series while trying to switch things up a little bit, and found something fun and new in the BBC production of New Tricks (also on Amazon). It’s a little bit older having been produced in 2003, but that doesn’t take away from the interesting mix of detectives with their foibles or their unique skills. A snappy veteran cop is given a threesome of retired detectives and assigned cold case files.

The story lines are clever instead of gruesome. There are no car chases. There is a dose of unsavory behavior. And a dash of OCD mania. In other words it is very British and very un-Hollywood. A perfect replacement for Bosch. Happy viewing!

A Few More Dollars- movie review

This 1965 Clint Eastwood western is a power drink of machismo. Produced by Sergio Leone, an Italian producer and script writer, and shot for the most part in southern Spain, it is a replica of life in the wild west which didn’t even make it to American viewers until 1967.

The plot is simple. Very simple. You might start to question the time you are devoting to the film if the cinematography didn’t excite your visual senses to the point of telling the rest of you to sit back and relax. And then there’s Clint. I mean, who can wear a poncho and look that exquisite.

The man competitions are relentless. It starts simple, shoot’em up type of scoring. (*warning* lots and lots of bodies punctured by bullet holes in this film!) But then it gets a little more complicated. There are hat shooting tricks and duels on deserted dusty main streets under big skies. There are poker games in the saloon. And then even more complicated, the bounty hunters start to collude. And then they don’t. And the bandits collude, and then they don’t.

But the economic incentives at the heart of the movie are spelt out for the audience right after the opening credits in white lettering on a red backdrop:

Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price.
That is why the bounty killers appeared.

There are only two women in the movie. A hotelier, an uncharacteristically coarse figure who drools at the sight of Eastwood, appears briefly towards the beginning of the film. And a beautiful young woman who, years before, had robbed the ruthless convict Indio of his manhood by shooting herself while he was raping her. He carries her musical locket to antagonize his agony again and again.

And in this tale of chasing dollars from a bank vault or the bounty for fourteen gangsters, we find out that for some, it is not about the money at all.

Well worth a watch. Did I mention that Clint was in his early 30’s and….?

PBS’s Unforgotten – Series Review

After I wrapped up Bosch, the story of a crusty police detective who hits the streets of LA to secure justice for the victims of crime, I was at loose ends for a replacement. I needed a new setting and a new protagonist. We had switched streaming choices recently which opened BBC up for viewing. That’s how I came across Unforgotten: Unforgotten is the critically acclaimed British crime drama series starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar

Instead of the old-shoe-leather-worn-beat-policeman made detective, the protagonist is a mid-aged woman whose brain clicks through every clue and its potential like the wheels on a slot machine. She knows the odds are low for bringing to light the violent offender responsible for the skeletal bones under an old boarding house, but press on she does.

Her lighter step and softer expression is a nice contrast to the scowl of a graying cop who has seen more corruption than he cares to claim. Her compassion toward the mother of the lost son is displayed through action and not just words. She is interesting. She is sincere.

The story line is strong. Like any good mystery, part of the reason the audience cannot predict the outcome is because they are being denied information. But the plot in Unforgotten has you noodling right along with DCI Cassie Stewart and her partner DI Sunny Khan. They’re a good pair, contrasting yet supportive.

There’s a freshness about discoveries made due to new technologies or abilities, like pulling apart and refurbishing a diary. Although buried under a body for forty years, a little of this, a little of that, and the scientists are able to read the entries. And there is a dash of corruption to be sure there are plenty of gangsters in the mix.

Overall the series has everything I could ask for: interesting characters, thought provoking plot, sympathy to the victims (to take the edge off the violence), and super actors from across the pond. I recommend watching.

North by Northwest- a Movie Review

I finally was able to talk my husband into watching a classic film with me, and it was a success. Hitchcock’s unparalleled skill at maintaining suspense throughout the two hour tale proved to my spouse that old can be good, very good indeed.

You do have to overlook (or maybe find endearing) the painted scene backgrounds and the dubbed in film running in the windows of a taxi in motion. The music however is delightful and enhances the mysterious mood. But the caliber of photographic images captured by the camera lens throughout the movie are exemplar.

Cary Grant is of course a dream. Eve Marie Saint treads along that fine line of goddess-like blond and the self-sufficient female. It’s not surprising she won best supporting actress for the role. It was also delightful that she was not the solo female amongst a bevy of strapping men. The mother of Grant’s character is quite a character herself, and there is grumpy German housekeeper to boot.

I loved all the iconic 50’s (the film was produced in 1959) architecture. There are plenty of floor to ceiling windows, wood beaming and stone facades. The UN building’s oblique skyscape is instantly recognizable. But the barebone gravel road infrastructure in rural Indiana was a good reminder of how much has been built in the last half a century.

Hitchcock the master story teller outdid himself. The film is a work of art.

The Wire– a review

If you prefer drama to comedy I can recommend the HBO series The Wire. The first of five seasons came out in 2002 when the TV in our house was featuring Barney and Dora the Explorer. A crime drama portraying the grisly conflict between law enforcement and the (mostly drug) criminals wasn’t in the cards.

The story lines hold their own with intrigue and surprise, along with character development. Every season probes a new scheme, a new crew of gangsters, while bringing along the established cast and story threads from past seasons. From Wikipedia:

Set and produced in Baltimore, MarylandThe Wire introduces a different institution of the city and its relationship to law enforcement in each season, while retaining characters and advancing storylines from previous seasons. The five subjects are, in chronological order: the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the print news medium. Simon chose to set the show in Baltimore because of his familiarity with the city.[4]

What holds up so well is the consistency of the norms, whether they are those which the criminals obey or the ones the mainstream players abide. Each side has heroes and crooks, has chivalry and villainy. Each side has bad luck and good fortune. Each side has weakness and substance abuse. A few try to pass from one side to the next.

The Wire is lauded for its literary themes, its uncommonly accurate exploration of society and politics, and its realistic portrayal of urban life. Although during its original run, the series received only average ratings and never won any major television awards, it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time.

The Wire – Wikipedia

You will also realize how far technology has come in the last twenty years. The primary tool used to capture the drug dealers is “by getting up on their phone,” or getting court authority to tap phones. When the first season opens these are pay phones on the corners of the gritty streets of Baltimore.

As long as you can tolerate a little violence, it’s well worth a watch.

I Care a Lot – Movie Review

My husband and I finally stumbled onto a movie last night that didn’t have me flicking the exit button after fifteen minutes. Netflix’s I Care a Lot twisted and turned enough to hold our attention.

It’s a battle between a nouveau riche con-woman and an established class con-man. But the story is kept au current by setting it in the middle of the how-to-care-for-aging-boomers dilemma. The portrayal of a nursing home as a lockdown facility is terrifyingly real, especially in times of covid when there has been strict control over who enters and exits through the magnetically locking entrance doors.

The protagonist is a bad ass feminist. She’s driven to out smart and out bully anyone in her path to success. She’s out to demonstrate how the work which usually falls to the domestic in a household, can instead be externalized into a lucrative business. Get the right doctor to assess memory loss and the right judge to legitimise her stewardship, and poof! She builds a portfolio of guardianships. Bend the rules a bit more, and it’s a cash cow bonanza.

The plot riffs off the ever too real issues simmering through many families. As mom and dad age, when do they become too forgetful (because being a little forgetful reaches well down into middle age)? Who gets to decide when an adult, a person of authority for decades, must forego their independence and turn everyday decisions over to another. An error of commission causes unhappy holiday gatherings. An error of omission invites scammers of all sorts to prey on the elderly.

The Iron Lady- movie review

I’ve been a big fan of Meryl Streep ever since Sophie’s Choice (1982), but for some reason hadn’t gotten around to watching her portrayal of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2012, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, a British film director and producer). It seemed like the perfect match-up for a Saturday night: the story of the first women to rise to the highest political office in the UK brought to life by a favorite actress.

Yet-I found this movie perplexing. The film opens with a batty old lady stumbling around a shop, buying a pint of milk. I could barely make out Meryl and was confused how this could be Thatcher, who putters anonymously along the streets of London. Getting wise to the technique of starting a story at the end of a life, and then filling in the important stuff in a retrospective, I sit back and wait.

And wait. Nearly half the film is about an elderly lady hallucinating about her kind and beloved husband. It’s a touching story, but not exactly what the most powerful woman of the western world in the twentieth century is known for. The message seemed to be that this woman had a supportive father as well as a devoted husband- lucky girl! That’s how she managed to enter the halls of power.

Even when the film gets around to her accomplishments, they leave out interesting details, like that she was a chemistry major. No information or encounters in her subsequent academic pursuits, or early years. We do discover her husband was a businessman and also a family man, but isn’t the story about her?

More often than not the portrayal of her career lands on the tragic- such as the scene where she is writing letters to the families of the servicemen who died in the Falklands War. No mention that the conflict was provoked by an Argentinian invasion on April 2nd, 1982, and was wrapped up with a decisive victory by June 17th. What does a girl have to do to get a little recognition?

An overt concentration on the loosing side of her political career continues through the whole film, from the riots following her proposal of a “community charge,” to the waning of political judgement after so many years in office, to the tears that spring to her eyes when she resigns. Yet the voice of her husband pipes in, “Chin up old girl.” There’s Denis with his unfaltering support.

This representation of Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, the longest serving prime minister of her generation, blessed as a dementia patient so she doesn’t have to relive a faltering political career, is more than a little odd. Any female who started in a grocery store and rose to lead men, not listen to them, must have been– spellbinding.

It’s not even difficult to find her admirers. Check out the level of reverence in William F Buckley Jr’s voice as he introduces her in this clip from Firing Line. Meanwhile, she sits in her chair composed and alert, neither aloof nor nervous. Just present. This was 1977. Two years into being the leader of her party, and two years away from being elected to the top job.

It would have been far more interesting to tell the tale of how she discovered and cultivated her ability to captivate her male (and female) counterparts. Instead of showing how two men coach her into a new hair do and enhance her elocution skills (ho hum), how about the moments she went from awkward to confident, from nervous to calm, from hesitant to determined? How did she come to realize her je-ne-sais-quoi?

Meryl Streep took home the best actress Oscar for her performance. I just don’t think she was playing Maggie Thatcher.

Hillbilly Elegy

Like many Americans on Thanksgiving, we laid a rollicking fire in the hearth and watched a movie on an absurdly large TV. The feature film was Hillbilly Elegy, a Ron Howard film based on a true story. There is so much material here that is relevant to this blog: groups, public and private transactions, the externalities and the weighing of choices. The threads run fast and thick in this tale strung through several generations. I could fill a month of posts dissecting it all, but instead I’ll stick to just one scene.

JD Vance, the story’s author and lead character, has a tumultuous relationship with his mother played by Amy Adams (who did an excellent job as usual). The middle schooler asks to live with his widowed grandmother, Mamaw. The matriarch quickly starts to clip away at his juvenile delinquent friends and his poor school performance. But it isn’t the yelling nor the screaming nor the fist throwing that changes JD Vance’s perspective on his life and his future. It isn’t a hoo-ha in a shop over an expensive calculator or a potential run-in with the law.

The turning point for this youth, who eventually works his way to Yale Law School, occurs when he overhears a quite negotiation between his Mamah and the Meals-on-Wheels volunteer. JD listens as Mamaw makes a case to the volunteer for extra help in the care of her grandson. This plying of goodwill results in a handful of grapes, a pear and a snack size bag of chips. She brings the bounty back to their dinner table, slices a small chicken breast in two and tosses the chips his direction.

If you know anything at all about teenage boys, you know their stomachs are always begging for a refill. When the calculation of their predicament was tallied up in terms he understood, terms that made common and physical sense to him, the youth engaged. JD’s subsequent actions worked toward the goals that had been laid out for him, but only now he intrinsically understood.

The point is that everyone has to come to terms with their own trade offs and choices. No matter how much others (out of genuine concern or some protectorate fantasies) want to step-in and speak for another person, or another group; to make claims about what people need and all the should’s in the world that they should have; they simply can’t. To make productive choices, people have to understand the alternatives on their own terms.

Apparently the film is getting negative reviews (here and here) by many substantial outlets. I like what Amy Adams has to say in response:

Everybody has a voice and can use it how they choose to use it.

Maybe the open minded need to listen a little more closely.