Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Post Modern Detection: Broken Flowers

No detective shows for me again last night, but instead we watched 'Broken Flowers'. Its directed by Jim Jarmusch and I loved 'Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai' and bits of 'Coffee and Cigarettes'. This film got mixed reviews when it came out but I liked it. We saw it at a preview screening at the NFT but I bumped into an old university friend in the foyer which shook me up a bit and overshadowed the film somewhat. So I was glad to rewatch it last night without that distraction.

Broken Flowers is a detective film, but a very post modern detective film in that the mystery is never solved. Solving the mystery is, along with a linear narrative structure, a masculine construct and unnecessary in these post-colonnial, post-feminsist times or something like that - from what I can remember of my degree studies which was over a decade ago.

There isn't a crime in Broken Flowers, Bill Murray's character is searching for his son rather than a killer, but he is looking for clues, encouraged by his neighbour, Winston (a scene stealing Jeffrey Wright) who is more obsessed with detectives than I am! When we first meet Winston he is having computer troubles, while looking at a website that helps you to write your own detective novel and solve any crime! You can imagine that my ears pricked up at the sound of that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Style File: Charlie's Angels

Like many programmes from the past, Charlie’s Angels is probably best left to nostalgia as re-watching tends to lead to disappointment. The plots are paper thin. Characterisation is weak. And don’t get me started on the sexism

But the one thing that it is worth watching Charlie’s Angels for is the fashion. The Angels remain undeniably stylish and for this very reason I’ll be watching more on the video on demand channel.

I have a weakness for retro clothing so I would probably always love the Angel’s style, but such is the cyclical nature of fashion, they actually look very ‘now’ anyway. The episode I watched yesterday featured high-waisted flared jeans with tight t-shirts (always a favourite look round my house). In particular, Jaclyn Smith was wearing a very cool white Monaco Grand Prix t-shirt with her flares. Their wardrobes also contain wide collared shirts, pussy bow blouses and cute knits. The cinema remake Angels were no where near this stylish.

Strangely though, Farah Fawcett (Majors) was the main idol at the time, but I actually find her the least attractive of the three (I still wouldn’t say no to looking like her and she married the Fall Guy!). I think it might be because her clothes are the most obvious, whereas I prefer the understated style of the other pair. The men’s fashion however has not faired so well – yesterday’s villain was wearing an mechanics overalls most of the time, but this being the 70’s they were unbuttoned to the waist to show his chest – not a good look, but then he was a baddie.

Song of the Week: Thompson Twins "We are Detective"

It had to happen. The other obvious detective song. The Thompson Twins. Again, I couldn't find the original video for it but this is a video somebody made in school and posted to YouTube. Its really rather good and goes with the music well I think.

This is doubly appropriate - not only does the song have the word detective in the title, but the Thompson Twins took their name from a pair of the fictional detectives - the Thompson Twins (obviously!) in the TinTin books. The original Thompson Twins weren't really twins despite looking near enough identical -they were unrelated and one was Thomson without the p and the other Thompson with the p. The musical Thompson Twins weren't twins either and there were three of them!

Last Week's Viewing

I had a very busy week last week, which included going to a fashion show, going away for work and on Saturday actually socialising with my friends all day. So this didn't leave much time for watching television and I didn't really watch anything until Sunday, when I tried to make up for lost time.

Saturday: I got home at 11 so watched the last bit of SVU then the start of Criminal Minds, where predictably I fell asleep, woke up 15 minutes before the end, dozed off again and woke up five minutes after it had finished.

Sunday: A bumper viewing day, but it didn't start until later. I had wanted to watch the episode of Columbo which involved a production of Macbeth, but the OH was watching sport so I had to wait until later.

I watched a quick episode of Charlie's Angels wihch involved female racing drivers, then a Perry Mason: The Case of the Poisoned Pen. This episode involved the death of a murder mystery writer and the other suspects were all other murder mystery writers. How postmodern! It was fairly predictable and the formulaic structure annoyed me a bit.

Then the OH and I watched two episodes of SVU that we'd recorded the other week. The first episode was very good - Olivia had found her half brother, fathered by the man who raped her mother. But then he was a suspect in a stalking case, raising the question of whether he has inherited this from their father. Meanwhile the captain questions whether Olivia and Elliot should remain partners. Honestly, I wish they'd just have sex with each other to get it over with!

The second episode wasn’t so interesting and annoyingly we’d missed one in between so have no idea if the brother situation was explored further or if that was it. Olivia and Elliot were still partners though although showing no signs of having consummated the relationship. This episode involved underage drinking, something that in the UK would more likely be a case for social services rather than the police. All of the teenagers involved were irritating and I’m glad I didn’t go to an American High School as its nothing like Sweet Valley High these days.

Next up was an episode of Criminal Intent, apparently the sixth ever episode, which seemed a strange landmark to announce. You could tell it was an early episode though as everyone is wary of Goran’s bizarre behaviour rather than accepting his genius. It involved priests, foster care and homeless shelters, and was suitably bleak.

Then I rounded the day off with Medium. The OH watched it with me for the first time, but seemed to struggle with the conventions of showing flashbacks and visions. He found the family life subplot boring and suggested the programme should be renamed ‘Tedium’. I enjoyed the episode despite his distractions although next week I think I’ll watch it on my own.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Interative with The Bill

I used to love The Bill. About six years ago, I followed it closely. It was back in the glorious days of Don Beech, a bent cop who then went very very bad. It got very exciting when he went very bad. He got his own brief spin-off. But then The Bill became dull and I lost interest. I haven’t seen it for years now but by bits of things I read about it, it seems to have gone further down the soap opera route, which I’m not that keen on.

But yesterday I read something in the paper that piqued my interest and I may be returning to The Bill fold soon. They are going to do some sort of interactive episodes where viewers can solve the crime, using clues posted on YouTube. I’ve not been able to find anything more out about this yet, but I’m intrigued.

More on this at a later date…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Light-Hearted Murder: Medium

Last night I watched Medium for the second time. As I said to my OH 'I like it. Its a light-hearted murder programme'. He laughed rather a lot at this but then he had just returned from several hours in the pub.

But it is light-hearted. It is perfect Sunday evening viewing when you don't want anything too depressing or gritty - its bad enough that Monday morning is only hours away. The premise of the show is that a mother who works for the DA have psychic powers and can see dead people. The random dead people wandering around aren't really scary, they are sort of reassuring.

But what I really like about it is the sub-plots involving her family, her three blonde haired poppet children and especially her husband (played by Jake Weber). He has lovely floppy hair, looks after the children and goes to bed in a grey t-shirt which seems rather quaint, but lovely. I'm rather envious of her homelife, even if she can't get a decent night's sleep for visions and message from the other side.

Song of the Week: Elvis Costello "Watching the Detectives"

Its a surprise I didn't do this one sooner really. I couldn't find the actual Elvis Costello video, just several live performances of it and then I came across this which is an ad for TCM that uses the song. It is a pretty good pastiche of a film noir, so probably more appropriate here than just watching Mr Costello. Its a pretty good song anyway.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Grisly Undertakings: Columbo

Today's Columbo was one of the newer episodes, made in 1998, and noticeably darker, but more tongue-in-cheek at the same time than the original stories. It was unusual in that it was set in a funeral home. Its surprising really how little you see of funeral homes in murder programmes. You may see the occasion funeral, but in a way death is almost glossed over by these shows, with it just being a means to an end, with the end being the process of detection.

The murderer was a funeral director. Not just any funeral director, but funeral director to the stars! He was played by Patrick McGoohan who also wrote and directed the episode. When I saw his name come up at the beginning, I was slightly confused as I was certain he had been in the episode last week, which I didn't watch. But it turns out that he has starred in no less than four episodes of Columbo. That's dedication!

The episode also featured a gorgeous bloodhound and a puppy (I love dogs even more than I love detective shows), a barbershop quartet singing about 'amusing' funerals, and a tapdancer at a funeral (bringing a new meaning of the phrase 'dancing on their grave' I suppose).

An ex-lover and television reporter (Blanche from the Golden Girls, typecast as a saucy Southern Belle with few scruples) threatens to expose the funeral director for stealing valuable from the stars he has cremated. He kills her and cremates her, putting her body into the incinerator instead of the body of a war hero Hollywood legend. He later cremates the Hollywood legend with some leisurewear retailer and makes some quip about double occupancy.
Columbo knows he did it (doesn't he always?) but is stuck with the problem of proving it without a body, as the ashes have been scattered over the Hollywood hills. But then it turns out the Hollywood legend has shrapnel in his leg from the war, which doesn't burn, and that is still in the urn of the leisurewear retailers. Case solved. Although I'm not convinced that this would be enough to convict, but as this isn't Law & Order, we don't have to worry about the judicial system.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Elite Police

The premise of Law & Order: Crimincal Intent has confused me somewhat. I didn't quite understand what the Major Cases Unit was for. I had a vague idea that it was to deal with high profile cases, often involving the rich & famous but this seemed an odd idea - almost as if the wealthy had their own better murder squad. So I thought that couldn't be right and perhaps I was missing something else. But I looked it up on Wikipedia and it turns out that is exactly what it is. So not only can money get you better education and healthcare, it gets you are better level of policing!

The Wikipedia entry also points out a structural difference in the episodes that distinguish it from the original L&O - in particular that the opening scene shows the victim and contains clues to help you solve the crime. Unfortunately, the last episode of it I saw, I turned on a couple of minutes late so I probably missed a few vital clues there, but nonetheless I watched it, followed the plot and figured it out before it was properly spelt out for me.

The episode involved the murder of a woman whose son had recently been released from prison who had raped and strangled a woman, but didn't get life for some reason. Now this crime didn't fit the rich model but it was a high profile case as the son was a known criminal so I guess that makes him 'infamous'. So in comes Goran and Eames. Of course, the son didn't do it - that much was clear if only because it would have been a very short episode if he did. Instead it was a great episode that took in women who write to prisoners and women turned on by murderers, police interrogation techniques, wrongful imprisonment and the world of publishing fact checkers!

Goran's encyclopaedic knowledge of everything every manifested itself this episode in his quick deduction that the victim was stocking up on dimes to copy library records.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

This Weekend's (Thwarted) Viewing

I attempted to watch Criminal Minds last night for the first time. Unfortunately it was on a bit late and I annoyingly fell asleep before it concluded. What I did see wasn't too bad - three bombs had gone off and the team were trying to find a link between the victims and looking at the explosive devices to find the culprit. The section with the bomb expert looking at how the devices were made was particularly interesting, as he explained how each bomb maker has a signature and what you can deduce about their character. Fascinating stuff, but the plot device used to allow him to explain this to the audience (because in real life he'd probably do this in silence) he was explaining his ideas to what appeared to be an intern! An intern in the FBI! Does that happen? It seemed rather a clunky way of doing it and as it is the first time I've seen this show, I don't know if they always have a dumb person to explain stuff to.

Law & Order SVU was also on two channels pretty much simultaneously last night and I'd already seen both episodes. What are the chances of that? Actually probably quite high, especially since Five are saving their new series for weekdays only. I had also already seen today's Perry Mason case.

Even more annoying was that a cable channel we don't get (Living TV) had a Detective special weekend - a friend sent me a Facebook message to alert me to this. I was gutted. Apparently one show posed the question of 'If you were murdered who would you want on the case?' This is a question I will no doubt return to here later.

On a positive note, we now seem to be receive a batch of new channels including one On Demand Channel that has a whole series of Charlies Angels, which I'm hoping my partner will watch with me if only so he can decide if he prefers Jaclyn Smith or Kate Jackson (he's already ruled out Farah).

Song of the Week: Velvet Underground "The Murder Mystery"

This isn't the full nine minute version as featured on the eponymously titled album, but an extract from it used to accompany a short film I found on You Tube. The images perfectly fit with the haunting music and lyrics. The song involves voices coming from the left (Lou Reed & Doug Yule) and from the right (Mo Tucker & Sterling Morrison). The effect is sinister and confusing, not helped by the cut-up quality of the lyrics, which are more baffling than more murder mysteries I've come across.

Lyrics include:

put down that rag simpering, callow and morose who let you in? if I knew, then I
could get out the murder you see is a mystery to me

and the queasy-making

off with his head, take his head from his neck off, requiring memories both
lovely and guiltfree, put out his eyes, then cut his nose off, sanctimonious
sycophants stir in the bushes, scoop out his brain, put a string where his ears
were, all the king's horses and all the king's men, swing the whole mess at the
end of the wire, scratch out his eyes with the tip of a razor, let the wire
extend from the tip of a rose, Caroline, Caroline, Caroline, Oh! but retains the
remnants of what once was a nose, pass me my robe, fill my bath up with water