TV Shows »The #1 Ladies Detective Agency

ladies number one detective agencyon HBO and DVD

Never has a TV show made me feel like such a jerk for being such a sarcastic jerk – but I just can’t help myself when the dialogue of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency gets so simple (seriously, most conversations consist of “He sounds like a good man”, “He is a good man”, “Perhaps a bad man is making him do bad things” “Mma, a very bad man”… and on and on). But still, the show is quite charming in its way, despite the inherent condescension in the script that tends to over simplify its characters.

It’s like an updated Murder She Wrote re contextualized in the incredible, and incredibly shot, location of Botswana. The show was directed by the late Anthony Minghella, and his deep love of warm, epic landscapes is intact; and the costumes are quite inspiring and breathtaking as well. No women can mix pattern, shapes, and looks like the ladies presented here – I started re-mixing and matching my wardrobe in my head as I was watching.

Jill Scott is a sweetheart and one of the few women with girth on television who has a healthy body image, but the real star of the show, as far as I’m concerned, is the sassy wide-eyed little errand boy, Wellington.

It’s not edgy viewing and if you’re an asshole like me you might even find it grating at times, but some night it’s great to tune into a simple mystery show nset in a world few of us are familiar with.

Click here for the rest of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency

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Posted on January 10, 2010

Books »We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Best Book)

Here's what I said back on December 28th:

Shirley Jackson
is a vivid horror writer, not vivid as in blood and gore, but like her most famous short story, The Lottery, her depictions of the horrors of human cruelty are ones that stick in your imagination forever. Since reading that short story way back in junior high, I'd never tried anything else that Jackson had written and was happy to have finally rediscovered her work with the short novel We Have Always Lived In the Castle, a chilling, twisted, smart, haunting book about a family rocked by murder, insanity, suspicion and class warfare.

Merricat Blackwood (named by Book Magazine as one of The 100 Best Fictional Characters Since 1900) is your narrator, a strange child of eighteen and one of the only surviving members of a prominent family that was killed at breakfast when someone put arsenic in their sugar. Constance, her older sister was acquitted of the murders and poor Uncle Julian's body and mind were permanently warped by his non lethal dosage. Together the three of them, along with Jonas, the cat, live in an old mansion apart from the rest of the village. They are completely sheltered from the outside world except for the two days a week Merricat goes into the village for goods and must endure the stares and laughter of the villagers, and Sundays when members of other prominent families bravely take tea with the two mysterious girls.

Their beloved castle is under the protection of Merricat's sympathetic magic described by wikipedia as:

a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence. Imitation involves using effigies or poppets to affect the environment of people, or occasionally people themselves. Correspondence is based on the idea that one can influence something based on its relationship to another thing.”

For example, she buries items like a box of silver coins and nails her father's books to the surrounding trees to keep out strangers; once that book falls, she knows danger is imminent.

That danger comes in the form of Cousin Charles, a thieving manipulator who can fool the frail Constance, but not so easily the equally manipulative Merricat who envisions different ways he could die (turning him into a fly and leaving him in a spiders web, or perhaps just stomping him to death in the garden…) during a rather unappreciated visit. His presence sparks a chain of events that breaks down their odd routines and concludes in an eruption of fire and violence which marks the beginning of a new and far weirder way of life for the two sisters.

It's part Grey Gardens, part Tim Burton (who would have a grand time adapting this), part old timey Gaslight thriller, and I loved it. It was interesting to find out that Jackson was an agoraphobic herself, which is probably why the extremely eccentric but happy sisters are sympathetic and oddly relatable while all the outsiders are depicted as cruel or petty.

While Jackson isn't as well known today as she deserves to be, this, her last novel did come out in a new edition in 2007 with a smart looking cover featuring an illustration by Thomas Ott (pictured) but the original cover is also pretty wonderful and both adorn an equally great read.

The Demon Princes
Random Family
Code of the Woosters
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
A Friend of the Earth
Please Don't Promise Me Forever

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Posted on November 2, 2009

TV Shows »Trial and Retribution

Even with the prestigious name of Lynda La Plante attached to Trial and Retribution (she is behind the absolutely amazing Helen Mirren series Prime Suspect), I didn't know if I could expect much more than a Law and Order with accents. I was so wrong. Each episode is about four hours long and explores the emotions, investigation and the prosecution of a single crime exhaustively. Compellingly, you're never quite one hundred percent positive of the suspect's guilt or innocence until the end.

So far we've only seen the first series, starring Danny Deckchair (AKA Rhys Ifans) as a drunken weirdo who quickly becomes the prime suspect in the brutal murder of a young girl. The violence both implied and shown is a bit much for the weak-stomached, but it doesn't feel gratuitous; though the recurring split screen technique kind of does at times. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn't add anything to the story.

As with most BBC shows, the acting is great and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of this intelligent series.

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Posted on October 19, 2009

Books »The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I'm not entirely sure what I expected from the internationally popular mystery, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it wasn't what I got. I thought, based on the title, it would be kind of arty, off kilter, or exotic (though the setting in rural Sweden is, admittedly, pretty neat) but it's fairly straight forward, though quite complex in plot.

It's half in the tradition of “cozy” mysteries and half a pretty gruesome tale of severe sexual abuse. It's light and dark in turns and while I'm not sure that I truly loved it, it is a page turner.

A journalist and a social pariah become, through a semi unbelievable turn of events, partners in crime. Their assignment: to uncover the truth behind the decades-old disappearance of a young girl from a seemingly secluded island. Along the way, they unearth sinister secrets far more grisly than they expected.

It's at times ludicrous, and the language is a bit clunky, but that could just be the translation. Author Steig Larsson, a Swedish journalist turned novelist, (sadly) died right before his book was published and became a world wide sensation. Undoubtedly a film version will follow.

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Posted on September 21, 2009

Books »The Curious Sofa

the curious sofaI can't tell you how much Edward Gorey's Mystery! introduction thrilled me as a kid – my sister and I, after dozens and dozens of studied viewings, got the handkerchief wailing toss down pat. Gorey's books and style are completely unique and singularly devious, so you can imagine the naughtiness and eventual savagery he might bring to the table working under an alias on a book for adults only.

I actually came across The Curious Sofa during one of those vague childhood recollections that lead you on a wild goose chase. I remember being totally enthralled with a slightly dirty picture book… maybe even a pop up book? At that age I was interested in anything that had to do with the forbidden subject of sex (even though I only had vaguest notions of what it was), and I even remember specifically wanting to see The Man with Two Brains because he said the word in an ad. Anyway, all I can recall were twenties style drawings, the color pink, and tits in a bubble bath.

Ends up that the delightfully wicked Curious Sofa, while a wonderful find, was not the book of my distant memories, but a notable and funny book rife with Gorey's signature style, wit, innuendo and mystery. With nary a single pornographic image (as hinted at in the books subtitle, “A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary”) it still manages to point your imagination into dark, frisky, and sometimes disturbing corners.

View some images over at Rotating Corpse.

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Posted on July 13, 2009

Movies »Doubt

doubtDoubt centers around an acting tour de force that never becomes annoying the way a lot of movies that feature acting tour de forces usually do (read: Rachel Getting Married). I really didn't have a lot of interest in seeing this one and think it was too mildly presented to audiences and advertised as something much more boring than it is. True, it's comprised of speeches and monologues (as you probably know, it's adapted by John Patrick Shanley from his own renowned stage play), but I found it completely compelling.

Much of the credit goes to the ever wonderful Meryl Streep – a woman who knows how to act with an accent (in this case Bronx, 1960s) who's so good so often that one takes her for granted and forgets her talents, or at least only recalls recent performances in Mama Mia and Prime over her roles in Kramer vs Kramer and Angels in America. But the credit extends to Philip Seymour Hoffman too (man who, when he's good, he's exceptional), this is one of his best roles in years (I also personally loved him most in Boogie Nights) and the small supporting cast, including Amy Adams doing wide-eyed as only she can and Viola Davis, are great.

Some critics have complained about the film's 'staginess', but it never bothered me. I thought it was a thought provoking still life of a problem that we now know has been far reaching and horrible. It plays with your emotions and prejudices and you find yourself in doubt as the plot progresses. The amiable characters that you like and want to believe may in fact be monsters, and those that are less likable and even frightening could actually be the only voice of reason. This was a real surprise.

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Posted on May 18, 2009

Books »The Little Friend

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt It took ten years for Donna Tartt to release her second book. It was well worth the wait. The Little Friend opens with the murder of a young boy, he is hung from a tree on Mother's Day. The rest of the novel takes place eleven years later, when Harriet, the little boy's baby sister, decides she is going to solve the murder. Like a Harriet the Spy in Mississippi in the 1970s, only with a very dark and realistic coming of age story. Like her other book, The Secret History, you will be lost in her world, reading late into the night.

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Posted on December 26, 2005

Movies »The Thin Man

The Thin Man Extremely charming, pleasurable, and clever mystery comedy
starring Myrna Loy and William Powell as witty, carefree, martini-soaked aristocratic sleuths. The entire collection (six movies in all) was just released on DVD. All are good, and they are movies “you can watch with the whole family” this holiday and actually enjoy it.

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Posted on December 18, 2005

Books »Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes A surreal labrynthine graphic novel–dark, paranoid, grotesque and mesmerizing. There is simply nothing else like it…

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Posted on November 28, 2005