What I'm Watching: Bosch

I watched S1 when it came out in 2014, was somewhat annoyed by the Hieronymus Bosch name gag (but the actor is named Titus Welliver, so… ludicrous historical names all around), all the jazz (not even music), and some of the inappropriate workplace relationship bothered me, but it was a competent murder show. Little scattered in plot, personal drama, and side-plots that go nowhere.

Picked back up S2 and now working thru S3, and I'm more interested. The jazz is sometimes overbearing, especially when smug asshole Bosch preaches about how great vinyl is, or how every restaurant he goes to is "best X in L.A.", he's a super punchable prick. He's like House or Sherlock Holmes without the genius or charm. As a villain, he'd be fantastic. As a protagonist, he's much less charming than Dexter Morgan or Walter White.

But J. Edgar the partner (Jamie Hector, aka Marlo Stanfield on The Wire) and other competently-acted characters (several also Wire alumni), and better plots and writing, make up for a lot.

S1's a cold case murder. S2 is more of an LA Confidential thing with a murdered porno producer and hot blonde wife named Veronica (not Lake) as a film noir femme fatale. S3 has a couple parallel veteran murder stories going on; I assume in the books these are Vietnam, there's something about how they're written that doesn't fit the desert war that never ends.

★★★½☆ solid but rarely amazing.

What I'm Watching: Ultraviolet (2017)

No, not the vampire movie, nor the shitty DRM video system. The Polish crime drama. It is all but impossible to search for a title like this.

A Buffy-like chick: blonde, vapid, argumentative, shitty family life, etc., except she's supposedly 30 instead of 16, is working as an Uber driver in Lódz, Poland, sees a girl thrown off a bridge. The cops call it a suicide, she disagrees, and starts investigating. Finds a quasi-secret society of "Ultra-Violets" (the explanation of the name is so ludicrous you have to watch to hear it) who hang out in a Slack with a purple backslash icon and solve murders while supposedly doing their real jobs.

Social media-solves-crime is not a bad premise for a show, even if mostly social media-causes-crime in reality, and the chat and screens are usually captioned well enough to make sense despite being in Polish.

Lódz really isn't grim enough for my "Grim Scandinavian Drama" taste, just a little run-down, not cheerful enough for it to be ironic like Death in Paradise. It's like setting a crime drama in Boise or Salt Lake City; death's a bit of a relief, but not an omnipresent gloom.

The acting's a problem. Buffy, er, Ola wavers from nonentity to annoying. The useful cop is barely present. There is less chemistry between them than between noble gasses in sealed glass jars. Mom's a crying stereotype. Older dude Henryk is not bad, he might be an actual actor. The dirty cop is either stoic or stoned. The "Ultra-Violets" (snicker) are only on-screen for a line or two at a time, mostly from behind.

If they got some acting lessons, this could be watchable; as it is, it's on the "occasional watch if I'm bored" list.
★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Deadwind

It's that season again: Grim Scandinavian crime dramas with troubled detectives!

Deadwind has it all: A widowed detective returning to work too soon, a rookie partner, a dead woman half-buried in a beach, a real-estate company with shady dealings and a Lex Luthor-looking playboy/fixer. Finland is shot in moody lighting, always night, morning, evening (I think they said it's October? So no sunlight anyway). I love the sets, too, sterile white/black perfect surfaces, inside scruffy weatherbeaten houses. Nobody could live that neat, but it's perfect for mood.

Plot seems to move fast but this is a 12-ep season, with another being written, so expecting a lot more complexity.

★★★★★ so far

What I'm Watching: The Forest, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

  • The Forest: French gendarme captain arrives in a small town surrounded by wilderness just as a girl goes missing, presumably abducted in the Fay Woods. The cast includes a feral wolf-girl grown up into a sexy French teacher, woods people, nosy townspeople full of secrets, half-assed local flic, dead girl's moody and secretive friends. Very Twin Peaks-like, without being a direct ripoff as so many in the genre are. Beautifully shot, lovely music (tho not enough of it). ★★★★★
  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: I only saw a handful of his shows in his lifetime, but always liked his Kitchen Confidential writing. The Tangier, Morocco, ep is fantastic. I love William Burroughs' writing and spoken-word-poetry albums, and Tangier was Burroughs' muse. The other beats and Tangiers expatriates are interesting, but perhaps less so. Bourdain was always polite and treated well in Muslim countries, despite his atheism and Jewish ancestry, but as another infidel I'm leery of such places, so his travelogue is as close as I'm likely to get. Randomly wandering thru other eps as long as Netflix has them. ★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Low Winter Sun, Marcella, The Staircase, Goliath

  • Low Winter Sun: Terrible train-wreck ending to an otherwise great show. Was it intentional that the show fuck up and choke to death on its own vomit just like Detroit, or ironic coincidence?
  • Marcella: Season 2! I somehow didn't write about S1: Mentally unstable woman detective comes back to work chasing a serial killer or copycat of her old case. She has another breakdown, commits as many crimes as she solves, and then tries to cover up her shit. That was good, if at times heavy on the melodrama. ★★★½☆
    S2 follows her chasing a child murderer. Unfortunately this is Law & Order: SVU bullshit; reality is that child rape or murder by strangers is incredibly uncommon, so their approach of looking at randoms instead of family, teachers, or priests is unproductive.
    Marcella's also being pretty high and mighty for as shitty a person as she is. In S1 she lasted whole eps before melting down. This is all badly written by idiots, everyone spends half their time screaming incoherently at everyone.
    I bailed on this after S2E1. ☆☆☆☆☆

  • The Staircase: Documentary of Michael Peterson's alleged murder of his wife Kathleen. Between the writer suspect, and some of the very weird lawyers and experts, there's much more interesting speech and events than most of these true crime shows. Still pretty dry but not stupid.

  • Goliath (Amazon Prime): A man blows up on a boat. Two years later, the sister recruits a wannabe strip-mall lawyer who recruits a washed-up drunk lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton!!!) to sue. Slightly overwrought legal drama against the evil supervillain lawyer (William Hurt!), and then the crazy conspiracy levels start ramping up, babykillers keep their lawyers in the dark. Good conspiracy show with scruffy protagonists. They ought to play the Imperial March every time the Evil Lawyer Firm is onscreen. The one down side is Amazon Prime's unspeakably shitty video player, which makes me hate watching any serious show where I may need to rewind. Fuck Amazon. But ★★★★½ for the show.

What I'm Watching: The Lava Field, El Ministerio Del Tiempo, Low Winter Sun, Intelligence, The Break with Michelle Wolf, Steve Martin & Martin Short

  • The Lava Field: Dour, sometimes angry Icelandic cops chase down a faked suicide, with drug-dealing bikers named "Skipper" (no Li'l Buddy), and gloomy mourning at a child's grave. Basically perfect, even if it's only 4 eps. ★★★★★
  • El Ministerio Del Tiempo: A modern paramedic with a death wish, a smart 19th C girl, and a Renaissance swordsman become time cops in Spain. Very smart and funny, possibly the regionalism and low-budget classic Dr Who-isms will grate after a while but it's good as of a couple eps in. ★★★★½
  • Low Winter Sun: Detroit cops murder one of their own and then try to cover it up. Detroit is bleak, bleaker than you probably even think. Some police procedural, some small cop shop dramedy, some lives of the would-be gangsters in this shithole. Slower than I'd like and doesn't wrap up anything per ep, but I'm still along for it as of s1e4. I have to have the subtitles on for some accents, even tho they supposedly speak English in Detroit. ★★★★½
  • Intelligence (2005): Never heard of this when it was on, Canadian major crimes & espionage (much closer to post-9/11) try operating snitches and surveilling criminals. They kinda suck at it, but Canadian criminals aren't that terrifying, either. Matt Frewer (Max Fucking Headroom!) is a good treacherous bastard. LOOOONG-ass pilot movie. ★★★★☆
  • The Break with Michelle Wolf: Fresh from defeating the humorless orange gibbon at the White House roast, sure, I'll give her a short stand-up shot. Rude question: Did she have a stroke? Thus explaining the weird smirk and her voice? Yow, very hard to look at or listen to. Hit with a few jokes. The Alexa and Strong Female Lead video clips were amusing but not hilarious. She may improve, she did infinitely better than my final guests… ★★★☆☆
  • Steve Martin & Martin Short: I used to like Steve Martin on SNL and a while after, and then he fossilized. Marty Short is like a ventriloquist's puppet loose and off his meds. I dunno what I hoped for, but this was the opposite of it in every way. This is where humor goes to die. ☆☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Hap and Leonard

I watched S1 when it first came on, I love Joe Lansdale and an adaptation of his dirt-poor '80s Texas dark comedy/mysteries should be fantastic.

Sadly, S1 was pretty dull, there's some treachery but a lot of forgettable driving around Texas, and most of the supporting cast were the worst kind of walking meatsticks rather than actors. But it was great having Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar Little) playing cowboy Leonard, and James Purefoy (foppish Mark Anthony in Rome) as ex-hippy Hap has aged into a passable Fred Ward-like tired old hooligan. ★★☆☆☆

S2 is massively better. A kid's body under Leonard's dead uncle Chester's house leads to these two knuckleheads trying to investigate, as Chester had previously, with a mob of women with missing kids led by… no small personage… And there's a carnival which is always fun/terrifying, and my own biases confirmed when they get down to the killer.

This time most of the cast are competent; the killer is, sadly, one of the walking meatsticks and not convincing. MeMaw's great. The flexible redhead in the carny is amazing and I may be rewatching her a few times. Even the shitheel Texan pigs are complex for shitheel pigs and played out well enough.

Only real complaint is even at 6 eps, it's too long, this could be done in 4 or less.

S3 is going to be the KKK story, which should be fun, in a Blazing Saddles, Fletch Lives, Django Unchained kinda way.

"I tell ya. I ain't never been more proud to be an atheist than I am today." "Amen to that!"
Hap & Leonard in a church parking lot

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Film Noir Edition

Went for some rewatching of good films instead of trying to dig up a new Netflix binge. Spoilers spoilers everywhere. I'm sure nobody needs another commentary on either of these, but it's my blog and I like writing these, so fuck it.

  • A History of Violence: Quiet (too quiet and long) start, then we see small-town diner jerk Tom Stall exhibit skills no small-town diner jerk should have, and all the shit in the world comes back on him.
    The stairway sex scene is the canonical "is that sex or rape?" borderline: It sure starts rapey, but takes a turn, and is the opposite of the earlier cheerleader outfit scene, because the wife has to learn who her husband really is; Cronenberg's sex scenes are the most important character tests in his films, Crash most obviously but just as much here or in Videodrome.
    The boy's inherited talents/same fight choreographer as his dad are impressive, but I don't think he'd have that vocabulary. The ending moves in like an oncoming train. Just a malevolent noir flick. I'm glad Cronenberg didn't fully adapt the very cartoony ending (chainsaws and 20-year tortures!) of the John Wagner & Vince Locke graphic novel, even if in other of his films that'd be a relatively mild scene. ★★★★★
  • Pulp Fiction: "None of you fucking pigs move, or I'll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!"
    "Say what again! I dare you!"
    "Why do we feel it's necessary to yack about bullshit in order to be comfortable?" "Do not be bringing some fucked-up puba to my house!" I don't really like the Mia Wallace date. She's a little too in control to be a cokehead, Vincent's too alert to be a junkie on new good shit. Disco dancing is still and always dead, but hey, Tarantino wanted to make one scene of a film he loved (speaking of films full of indifference to rape, don't ever watch Saturday Night Fever). Even back in the day, a lot of people didn't understand why snorting heroin like coke was a bad idea, but that baggie instead of balloon setup was like a ticking time bomb. Amusing set decoration: Operation and Life games in the dealer's house in that scene.
    "Five long years he bore this watch up his ass, then he died of dysentery." The book Vincent was reading is Modesty Blaise, so it's a hardcover comic collection? Just a prop making a cool reference? I dunno, I read Modesty when it was in the paper in my youth, and some collections more recently. Sex and quick bursts of violence were her MO, but not otherwise thematically connected to the film.
    "Bring out the gimp." Eeeny-meeney is a bad way to go. What's the gimp's story, anyway? This whole segment is just a lesson of why you don't ever go in a building with Confederate flags up, even to save your life, because Southern Confederate traitors are all same-sex rapists, as also seen in Deliverance. "You lost all your LA privileges, hear?"
    "You read the Bible, Brett?" This part of Ezekiel "25:17" being faux-quoted was recently covered by The Bible Reloaded — possibly this episode or one very recent to it. I have a problem with Vincent's shitty firearm safety, nobody carries a gun with their finger on the trigger. "You know what's on my mind right now? It's not the coffee in my kitchen." Jimmy's coffee and The Wolf are fucking amazing.
    "Then I'm gonna walk the Earth. You know, like Caine in Kung Fu. Walk from place to place, meet people, get in adventures.": Why didn't someone made this TV show, Jules in a modern Kung Fu?! Yeah, Sam Jackson was too expensive even then, but he's gotta have an understudy who could do the actual series, like Eric Pierpont played Mandy Patinkin's part in the Alien Nation series, or Michael Shanks played James Spader's part in SG-1. Did you even notice or care it wasn't the original dude? Nope.
    I don't even need to give stars to my 4th favorite movie of all time.

What I'm Watching: SpaceX, Collateral, Borderliner, Death in Paradise

  • SpaceX Falcon Heavy, Starman video: A private rocket put an electric car in solar orbit on its way to Mars, with Bowie songs as accompaniment. Heinlein's Delos Harriman from "The Man Who Sold the Moon" and "Requiem" would be proud but very confused at it taking until 2018. ★★★★★
  • Collateral: Pizza boy is killed, and then an endlessly dull police procedural rarely looks at the procedure, instead a bunch of associated characters stop and stare in silence, with occasional whinging, which is to say they're English. The immigration story about the victim's family could be interesting, but it's told very slowly and haltingly. Billie Piper is awful and petulant, which is to say she's Billie Piper. Labour MP is a whiner, which is to say he's a Labour MP. A whiny lesbian COE priest shacked up with a cute Vietnamese girl can't be happy despite living in the first decade in history she wouldn't be burned at the stake. The killer's story isn't well-told, but there's a story there. For who the killer is, their operational security skills are amateurish and just plain stupid.
    Cinematography is annoying, often massively desaturated, out-of-focus "artsy" shots that just look like nothing, then conversations are very hot, flipping camera between people. I hate this soap opera shit, I prefer a cooler, movie-like style. It's not all teal/orange, but it's not natural lighting, either.
    Gave up on this after E2. I have got to stop watching English crime dramas, because my usual mild Anglophobia at these physically and mentally ugly people is turning into full-on "reenact the Revolutionary War". Back to French, Dutch, and Scandinavian stuff, and I think there's some Korean shows I haven't seen.
    ★☆☆☆☆
  • Borderliner: Norwegian cop Niko goes home to his small-town family of cops and then gets tangled up in a murder his brother is involved in, and partnered with a very pretty blonde. Procedure isn't bad, doesn't jump around between characters too much. Norwegians seem to just say what they mean (or speak a lie straight up) and get on with the plot, which is so refreshing after a buncha whinging English. They are professional brooders, grim figures casting grim shadows even when young and nominally happy, but it comes off stoic and not whiny.
    Their reluctance to throw the obvious psychopath in the group to the wolves makes this take longer than needed. Niko's prior case is hanging like Chekov's gun for a long time until it goes off.
    The War on Some Drugs that drives the plot is stupid, and these stoic, quiet Norwegians and Swedes don't really have the cutthroat mentality and heavy firearms to do serious drug business.
    Anyway, eight eps in, it's done and ends on a dark, quiet brood. ★★★★☆
  • Death in Paradise: Still going at S4. Stupid fun, tho Humphrey is the most pathetic detective ever.

Village Murder Mysteries

What I'm Watching: Death in Paradise

  • Death in Paradise: Dorkiest of all dorky English dork DIs Dick Poole is sent to a Carribean island to solve the weekly mystery murders with sexy local DI Camille Bordey and goofy island cops (Dwayne is Danny John-Jules, Cat of Red Dwarf fame!). Too perfectly fit puzzles, no random craziness, but good comfort watching.

    [Update 2018-03-07] S3 replaces Dick with Humphrey Dogood or some such, hapless and disorganized, almost a parody of a detective, and many eps use repetitive flashbacks, and people standing next to people monologuing, rather than conversations. The supposed screenwriter in one ep is writing a script full of novel-like editorializing, rather than an actual script, which suggests to me they fired all the writers and hired amateurs. Looking at the list of episodes backs that up; eps not written by Robert Thorogood are mostly dire. The appearance of Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon!) is a nice surprise. I miss '80s TV shows that would recycle actors constantly.

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