Monday, August 03, 2020

Media Notes: Roundup for July 2020

This is a somewhat random selection of the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during July 2020.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available):

  • Narco Cultura (2013. Documentary. Crime). A look at the narco cartels of Mexico, focusing on the city of Juarez and the Sinaloa Cartel. We get a look at the situation through eyes of different people including a crime scene investigator in Juarez, and a young man in El Paso, Texas (across from the river and Juarez) who writes and sings narcocorridos, folk songs about the narco traffickers that are very popular. Often, narcos will send money or pay in person to have a composer like the young man write them a song; sometimes in addition to payment, if the narco likes the song, he may get a gift, such as a fancy pistol. To many Mexicans and Latinos in impoverished areas, engaging in narco trade is seen as a way out that poverty, but it can come with a price in terms of risk and violence. The documentary is interesting, but it can be graphic as they look at crime scenes. For me the interesting angle was the young musician and composer working to make a living as a singer and composer. We also see a bit of the rising music business of narcocorridos, which one promoter envisions as "the next hip hop." And it is not just music, movies get made about the narcos as well. It is not just narcotics trade; it is a whole cultural phenomenon, and that is the part I found interesting. It also is a business, especially the arts side: making music, the CDs, movies, merchandise so on, and it does employ people as well and brings money in. There is a whole economy based off the image of the narcos. Documentary as I said can be a bit gruesome but overall worth a look. Via TubiTv.On a side note, in the documentary, some of the narco corrido composers look at Blog del Narco site for information and ideas (warning: violence depictions); the police and others like our forensic workers check it as well.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes.

For me, the highlight of the month was watching episodes of Midsomer Murders. See below for details. 

  • Midsomer Murders (1997 to present, still going. Mystery. Crime. Detective. British series). The British crime drama based on the book series of Chief Inspector Barnaby by Caroline Graham. In the series, Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and his young sergeant solve crimes in the small rustic villages in Midsomer County. I commented more on this in last month's roundup.
    • Season 1, Episode 4: "Faithful Unto Death." This is an episode based on one of Graham's books. Basic plot: "Local villagers in Morton Fendle are up in arms, demanding answers from Alan Hollingsworth, the owner of a local craft centre they had invested in, after news comes out that it has recently fallen into financial turmoil. As tensions begin rising in the village, Barnaby soon suspects that something has happened to Alan's wife, Simone, when his behaviour suddenly changes. His suspicions are soon confirmed when it transpires that Simone was kidnapped, after one of Alan's neighbours is murdered, shortly after witnessing something they shouldn't have." With the wife kidnapped, things get complicated for Alan, who seems to have embezzled the investors' money. His so-called partner, the pretty boy he had to convince others to invest, turns out he did not put in the money he claimed he did; some other guy did, and he is quite upset. When the neighbor is murdered, a woman who has a serious crush on Alan (deity knows why), the plot really begins to unravel. I am starting to see a somewhat common pattern where Barnaby when convenient to him breaks and enters into homes to snoop without a warrant (and for the most part gets away with it). And then, cops wonder why people do not like them or think less of them. I was that one woman, Barnaby's threat of "cops close ranks" would not matter, I'd file the complaint anyhow for him breaking into my house without warrant.It is starting to seem like a lazy plot device for the series writers (and I am guessing Graham the books' author since this is an adaptation of one of her novels): when Barnaby is out of ideas or wants to verify a theory, he just breaks into someone's house for clues that just so happen to be there. Although breaking in may be a bit strong. In these small towns, every other person leaves open doors, and he just waltzes on in as he breaks in. In the end, the scheme is a plot of a wife to have her husband killed to run off with her lesbian lover, but even that gets a twist at the end. Overall, this story was good though not as good as the previous ones, and as I said, the cops breaking in was convenient to the plot. 
    • "Death in Disguise." The 5th and final episode of the first season and last of the episodes that are actual book adaptations. Basic plot: "Bill Carter, one of the founders of a local New Age commune called the Lodge of the Golden Windhorse, dies suddenly after falling down some stairs and breaking his neck. Although there was uncertainty as to whether it was the result of an accident or murder, Barnaby and Troy find themselves having to determine which it was, when Ian Craigie, the commune's leader, is stabbed to death with a carving knife a few days later, while attending a spiritual seance with the rest of the commune and the parents of one of its members. It's not long before they discover hidden truths about the commune's founding and some of its members." The cult seems innocent enough, a little kooky, but your basic New Age commune. But as often happens with cults, they can have a dark side as Barnaby starts to see when the cult master is murdered. He then begins to discover the truths and dark pasts of the members. The story builds up slowly; there is what seems an obvious suspect yet it does not fit. Eventually the truth is revealed in a plot of money and revenge. 
    • "Death's Shadow." Entering the second season now. Basic plot: "Plans by Barnaby to renew his wedding vows at the church of St Michael's in Badger's Drift, are quickly put on hold when the body of Richard Bayly, a local developer, is found decapitated in his own home. The detective is left mystified as to why anyone would kill a man who had only been given weeks to live, after being recently diagnosed with a brain tumour." Turns out I had seen this episode a while back (got it on DVD from the public library), but it has been a while, so I figured I'd enjoy it again. II got reminded when I saw the snobbish bitch (pardon the language) wife of the pastor, who basically wishes she'd married a bishop or such instead of a small town parish priest. A detail that stayed with me, when Richard gets the cancer diagnosis, you can tell this is Great Britain, i.e. National Health System, which means he can worry about getting care without going bankrupt. Had it been here in the U.S., once he found out how much private insurance, if he has any, will fleece him for treatment, he may well end up in a ditch or go bankrupt and still end up in a ditch. Such details always catch my eye how other nations are so much more civilized about providing care as a universal right. Anyhow, big plot is a golf development for Badger's Drift that not everyone is happy about. However, the development may not be as crucial as everyone thinks; there is that old school. The case builds up gradually, and once Barnaby realizes the true connection, the slow plot picks up the pace. As in other cases, seems everyone has a motive for killing. A bit of twists and turns, but Barnaby eventually gets the truth and a look back at an old village scandal. They really saved the reveal for close to the end of the episode but quite the ride.  
    • "Strangler's Wood" (Season 2, Episode 2). Plot description: "When Carla Constanza - the face of Brazil's leading cigarette brand for Monarch Tobacco - is found strangled in the infamous Strangler's Wood, Barnaby and Troy not only find themselves investigating her murder, but three identical unsolved murders of innocent girls from eight years before." By the way, as I keep watching the series, I keep noticing certain running gags. This time I will mention Sgt. Troy's lousy driving. Barnaby often has to remind him to keep eyes on the road to avoid accidents. Anyhow, for this story we have what seems to be a serial killer coming back after a long time pause, but it is more than that as we get that serial killer plus a corporate conspiracy, and an extramarital affair or two. Overall, a fairly well paced episode.
    • "Beyond the Grave" (Season 2, Episode 3). Basic plot description: "Cully's latest boyfriend, Nico, decides to shadow Troy in preparation for a TV role he recently got, but gets more hands-on experience than he expected when investigations into a slashed painting at a museum in Aspern Tallow, a 17th century portrait of Royalist Jonathan Lowrie, are overshadowed by the murder of his descendant, Marcus Lowrie." Sees simple enough, but as usual, Barnaby, who apparently does not have anything to do, starts poking and soon things get complicated. There is a ghost in the museum (supposedly), a recently widowed woman who is the one repairing the painting, and a plot involving some escaped criminals and a heist. Plenty for Nico to shadow as he follows Barnaby and Troy. This one, given the ghost element, is a bit more atmospheric episode at times. Then there is the old local lady married to the descendant who fancies herself a medium it seems (wanting to talk to the ghost), which looks a bit silly to be honest. Once again, to move the plot, a little housebreaking takes place by the cops because Barnaby may know who one of the suspects is but a little breaking and entering without a warrant is needed to get the evidence. And then he sends Nico, who is NOT a real cop, with Cully, his daughter, to investigate a crime scene that turns out seriously risky so he can cover more ground. How the hell DCI Barnaby manages to stay employed as a cop with all the liberties he takes is a damn miracle to me. I know he is a fictional character, but usually crime fiction has some sense of realism. Do all cops just take these liberties with rules for expediency, or is the characters creator just dependent on that device when her plots get stuck? I have to wonder. The episode was interesting as it intertwined two crimes: the homicides (related to the heist) and the widowed woman, who turns out a relative was drugging her and driving her mad (a money motive, greed). Pretty good still. 
    • "Blood will out" (Season 2, Episode 4). Last episode of the second season. In this one, a local magistrate gets nastily mad over losing a couple of geese, blaming it on some itinerant travelers passing through. Soon murder happens, and the magistrate is killed because it turns out the guy was a serious bullying asshole, and pretty much everyone in the village hated him. So Barnaby and Troy pretty much have the whole village and the itinerants as suspects of who killed the magistrate, with his own shotgun by the way. Soon, however, it turns out there is a connection between the magistrate and one of the travelers. The episode has some slow moments, but it also has a bit of humor to it here and there, and the case is intriguing. Overall a bit long but pretty good. 
    • "Dead Mans Eleven" (Season 3, Episode 1): Basic plot: "When Matthew Draper, a quarry worker is killed by a demolition charge after obeying the orders of his foreman, Ian Fraser, to return to the unexploded device, no one can predict how it might effect the tranquil village of Fletcher's Cross nine years later." Ian was ordered to send Matthew in by quarry owner Mr. Cavendish, an odious rich asshole who could not care less about his men or the business; he was going to close it down anyways, and did shortly after the accident, leaving many in the country town unemployed. Time passes, Cavendish remains a wealthy landowner who remarried with a woman half his age, and he now wants to sell his estate and move to Florida with the wife (deity knows why the fuck but OK). Then the young wife is murdered. The question is why? The one everyone in town wants dead is Mr. Cavendish. This one builds up nice and slow; we get details a bit at a time, and gradually pieces fall into place, revealing the connection back to those nine years. And by the way, that wholesome born again Christian couple was not as wholesome.  
    • "Blue Herrings" (Season 3, Episode 2). Basic plot: "Barnaby's aunt, Alice Bly, has an addiction to detective stories, a deep admiration for her favourite nephew, and is recovering from an operation at the Lawnside Nursing Home. When a resident dies, Alice Bly picks up gossip which, mixed with the detective fiction with which she is passing the hours, makes her think that all is not as it should be at Lawnside." The old people for the most part seem to be in "God's waiting room" as some would say, so naturally one of them dies, excites some curiosity, to be expected. But not Aunt Bly, who is basically a Don Quixote but with detective fiction. Lucky for her, her nephew is a detective with a strong sense of curiosity. However, the episode, through some of the characters like the old chauffeur, also provides some small interesting insights into the elderly and their lives and often loneliness as their families may leave them behind, spouses die, so on. Naturally, as this is a mystery show, the aunt is right to worry as there is a serious racket going on at the nursing home including their doctor, at least one nurse, and one or two shady residents. The episode blends mystery with a bit of heartwarming moments. It does take a good while to reveal the actual plot amidst the other minor stories but when it does it is a moving reveal. 
    • "Judgement Day" (Season 3, Episode 3). Basic plot: "The village of Midsomer Mallow is one of the villages hoping to win the title of the "Perfect English Village" competition." As usually happens, people start getting killed, and Barnaby and Troy are on the case,  but the village people try to keep things quiet in order not to put the award at risk in a mystery, another homicide, that turns out to go back decades. Pretty interesting episode. 
    • "Death of s Stranger" (Season 3, Episode 4). Last episode of the third season. In this we start with a fox hunt, and a tramp who dies in what appears to be a fall into a pit. It turns out what really killed him was getting bashed on the head while in the pit. Then a suicide turns out to be a murder. Barnaby and Troy need to find out who did it and why and what is the connection if any, and quite the connection it is. 
    • "Garden of Death" (Season 4, Episode 1). Basic plot: In Midsomer Deverell village, a local family plans to turn a memorial inside a village garden into a tea shop. This leads to disagreements and conflict with the village, and naturally soon someone gets murdered. "As the detectives investigate, they slowly uncover greed, snobbery, illegitimacy, mourning and violence. . .". It never ceases to amaze me how much small towns can contain in terms of fodder for murders, but then again, living in a small town, yea, local feuds, snobbish neighbors, provincialism, and other sins do add up. By the way, this episode does feature a fairly odious cast. One of the first victims was killed by a shovel over the head, and to be honest, a few others deserved a shovel over the head as well, including that perverted gardener. The mystery here does take a while to unravel in large part because the motives are not that obvious; it is not just about the garden. There was some adultery as well. 
    • "Destroying Angel" (Season 4, Episode 2). Basic plot: "Following the funeral of local hotelier Karl Wainwright, his hotel's manager and a well liked Punch and Judy performer, Gregory Chambers, disappears unusually in yet another picturesque Midsomer village." Then people connected to the guy's will start dying. This one started quite a bit slow, and you think you might know who it is doing the murdering but not quite. Plenty of folks with a motive to get rid of Gregory. In the end, it was interesting as there were two layers: the murder of the old man, and then the other murders to avenge the first. Quite a plot. A small side detail that always fascinates me in these kind of shows is people leaving spare keys in places like under a flower pot, and it seems every other person in the village knows that little fact. Honestly, that kind of trust just does not exist anymore.  
    • "Electric Vendetta" (Season 4, Episode 3). Basic plot: "A man's naked body found under mysterious circumstances, within a crop circle on Sir Harry Chatwyn's wheat field, leads police to investigating how he wound up in the field after being electrocuted." The local UFOlogists are interested, but Barnaby is convinced that more Earthly matters did the guy in. By the way, another episode with some convenient breaking and entering by Barnaby and Troy to "have a look" and get a clue or two more. At any rate, sure enough, the murders were quite mundane including a revenge plot decades in the making. 
  • America's Dumbest Criminals (1996-2000. Reality. Humor. Crime). I started watching through this in June 2020, and I continue from Season 2.  
  • Gordon Ramsay's F-Word (2005-2010. Reality. Cooking. Food magazine. British series). TubiTv added the full run of this British series, so I decided to give it a chance. TubiTv's description: "Join chef Gordon Ramsay for a bold and mischievous take on the world of food, featuring celebrity interviews, stunts, recipe based challenges and more." 
    • Season 1, Episode 1. Gordon starts by cooking in the F-Word Restaurant for about 60 people with his brigade, which has experience cooks as well as a couple of trainees. Since he is also launching a campaign to get women in the kitchen (i.e. teach them to cook), most of the guests in the episode are women, including a celebrity who cannot cook to save her life. He plans to work on that. Also, he is meeting a food critic, and at home, to teach his children where food comes from, they are going to raise some turkeys and grow them as well as grow some vegetables for their Christmas meal in some months later. The wife is not too thrilled with the turkeys, but I do think that is a nice idea to teach kids that food is not just from the supermarket. Plus he gets a challenge to make a bread pudding from a comedian who actually has a pretty good pudding going. One of the cooking segments he does on his own, to show people at home that yes it is something they can do at home, explaining the process. As for the campaign, he does go out to teach women how to cook. This is based on a survey they did at the time that showed about 3/4 of the women surveyed did not cook, as in did not know how and regretted it. Overall, the show is light, interesting, you learn a thing or two, and it has some light humor. The format for the rest of the shows is similar to this: some cooking, some interviews, segments, the challenge for dessert. 
    • Season 1, Episode 2: The highlight is Joan Collins, along with food critic A.A. Gill, visit F-Word. The thing is he kicked them out of his restaurant Aubergine 7 years prior to this. This is the first time they see each other since then. For the dessert challenge, Gordon's own mom challenges with apple pudding. 
    • I watched through the first season, which took us for Gordon's children from raising the turkeys to eating them for Christmas dinner as planned. Note that TubiTV for some reason does not have the full runs as they seem to advertise. The last episode was missing, and I had to go find it streaming elsewhere (YouTube had it) to find out how the season ended. 

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