Found-Again Friday: Death In Paradise, Seasons 1 & 2

Why Found-Again? Many things can make me unsure about continuing with a TV show:

  • The characters are mishandled (most every character on Heroes, and I am still a little bitter about it);
  • A character I like leaves;
  • A character I dislike arrives (Burn Notice had at least two of these);
  • The villain gets too awful (see both shows mentioned above);
  • And then there’s The Flash, which is teetering on the edge thanks to a combination of “Barry keeps acting like an idiot” and “Central City breeds speedsters like ‘Salem’s Lot breeds vampires.”

I tried to stick to older examples above, but my current-season TV viewing took a big hit this year (damn you, The Flash!). I now have time to pick up some of my abandoned Netflix shows, like Death in Paradise, but should I bother?

The Premise: Death in Paradise brings a British detective, the uptight DI Richard Poole, to the tiny island nation of Sainte-Marie when the island’s own head detective is murdered. To his horror, what Richard thought was a one-shot assignment may be a permanent posting in a tropical land with no big cities, cloudy days or proper cups of tea.

Richard Poole, like Rumpole of the Bailey or Inspector Morse or even S. Holmes himself, is a classic detective type from British mystery, whose brilliance is fun to watch, but whose personality, if he were your coworker, might drive you to madness and murder. Fortunately, the rest of Sainte-Marie’s police are more forgiving: young go-getter Fidel; older, laid-back Dwayne; and Poole’s partner Camille, who tries to help Poole assimilate even as they solve some truly intricate murder cases.

The Verdict: I can’t say why I stopped watching Death in Paradise without dropping a giant spoiler, but I now realize I’ve missed the show while I’ve been away from it— much so that I even bought the first book by the show’s creator and may get the next one. The setting is gorgeous, the characters are fun (even Richard), and darn it, I even miss the CGI lizard.

Might go well with: Plantains; rum;  your other favorite British crime shows.

Found-Again Friday (on Saturday): The Big Easy

Back to raiding my DVD collection!

Why Found-Again: Blame Netflix. I started watching Criminal Minds a few weeks ago— what can I say? I guess I’m not depressed enough and/or wish to develop new phobias about driving, going to the park or sleeping in my home. There’s a season 2 episode set in New Orleans, and I found myself comparing the actors’ accents with Dennis Quaid’s often-mocked performance in 1987’s The Big Easy.

The Premise: Remy McSwain (Quaid) is a happy-go-lucky cop and a crook with a heart of gold, so steeped in graft that he barely notices it. An apparent mob murder coincides with the arrival of an investigator from the district attorney (Ellen Barkin), and the case begins to look less like an incipient gang war and more like the police have turned to murder.

Remy (offscreen) tempting Ann Osborn with pizza.
Remy (offscreen) tempting Ann Osborn with pizza.

Dennis Quaid often seems to be the salvation and the damnation of The Big Easy at the same time. His character is enormously charming, even when doing awful stuff like taking bribes; if you can’t get past the accent he seems to have stolen from this 1986 potato-chip commercial, however, the movie can be rough going. Quaid’s performance also goes a long way toward selling the movie’s other stereotypes—the random references to Mardi Gras, the voodoo, the gator—and he even takes a turn singing Cajun music at one point.

The gator.
The gator.

The resemblance to other ’80s buddy-cop movies is obvious; less obvious is The Big Easy’s kinship to the horror-genre staple in which children begin to figure out that all is not right with their families, and here I think the movie shines brighter. Remy’s failure to be suspicious of his fellow officers isn’t because he’s particularly stupid or greedy; it’s because they’ve been literally the background of his existence. There is a level at which this is a fairy tale, with guns and heroin and crime lords as the monsters in the wood.

The Verdict: The Big Easy’s faults are real. There was a (perfectly understandable, says this étouffée and zydeco enthusiast) fad for all things Cajun in the ’80s, and this movie is one of the results. That said, the film has a splash of noir and a lot of heart that make it more watchable, and the cast (Quaid and Barkin are joined by John Goodman, Grace Zabriskie, and Ned Beatty, among others) does a lot to elevate the goofy parts. And though I didn’t mention it above, let’s face it; the movie has some of the most effective sex scenes ever.

BigEasyWow

Might go well with: You name the Cajun food, it’ll go well.

Next time: Jonny Quest goes someplace with animals again!

 

 

 

 

 

Found-Again Friday: Guadalcanal Diary’s Flip-Flop Album

Why Found-Again? I’m not sure how a Found-Again music post will go; my inability to write technically about music is exceeded only by my inability to write technically about movies. But in the midst of tearing my hair out trying to find a topic for Friday, I realized I’d already revisited something for the first time in a long time this week: Guadalcanal Diary’s 1989 fourth album, Flip-Flop.

GDAlbumCover

The prosaic answer to the question above is therefore “because I finally ponied up for a CD player for my bedroom.”

The Background: I’ve already done a Musical Interlude post about the southern power-pop trend of the ’80s—popularly typified by REM—which for me managed to combine music I loved with a sense of regional pride. A less sheltered kid would have found out about these bands organically, but my first exposure to Georgia’s Guadalcanal Diary was a review of Flip-Flop in my mom’s copy of People magazine. I tracked down the cassette at a record store in Norfolk after I heard the single “Always Saturday” on the radio, and a decades-long enthusiasm was born.

The single wasn’t entirely typical of the band’s sound, but I fell in love with Flip-Flop…until I got my hands on their first full-length album, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man. Guadalcanal Diary released four full-length LPs in the 1980s, and my personal ranking of them would involve two ties:

  1. Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man and 2×4
  2. Jamboree and Flip-Flop

The albums in the number-one spot are a huge part of the soundtrack of my existence from ages sixteen to nineteen. The others…less so.

Because despite bringing the guitar-heavy sound that characterized Guadalcanal Diary…

and making lots of room for the outstanding vocals of singer Murray Attaway, who wails and snarls and purrs like no one else on earth…

…There’s something a little lacking when Flip-Flop is compared to the previous albums. The only word I can think of for it is urgency, and when you consider this was the “final” record for an awfully long time—there has been more music since, and the band members have done other projects—perhaps its slightly elegiac tone makes sense. Compare, for example, to one of my favorites from 2×4:

The Verdict: The same as it was for the movie Oscar, really. Would I change its place in the ranking above after giving Flip-Flop another listen-through? No. Does it deserve more attention than I’ve paid to it over the years? Hell yes.

Might go well with: Pour the summer beverage of your choice and have a listen.

 

Next time: Set robots to stun.

 

Found-Again Friday: The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, Final Appendices + Wrap-Up

Why Found-Again? Because this book used to be everything to me, that’s why.

 

"Goodnight, Joe." "Goodnight, Frank."
“Goodnight, Joe.” “Goodnight, Frank.”

There really isn’t a lot more to cover, since the last three sections are both well-written and still relevant today. We learn a bit about the criminal justice system:

For example, we learn why citizens' arrests aren't totally rampant.
For example, we learn why citizens’ arrests aren’t totally rampant.

More about surveillance, with diagrams and glossary:

As a wee thing, I used the term "check tail" so often, even my father learned it.
As a wee thing, I used the term “check tail” so often, even my father learned it. My poor, confused parents!

And the history and general nitty-gritty of fingerprint identification.

TheFinger
Give it a…oh, you know. Bad pun goes here.

And that’s all she they wrote.

The Verdict: I’m so glad I picked this up to reread: in a way, it explains an awful lot about me and the existence of this site in the first place. A little embarrassing, a lot of stuff to learn, and the occasional unfortunate hairdo: The  Hardy Boys Detective Handbook isn’t just a part of childhood, it’s practically a mirror of  childhood.

Might go well with: Anything tagged “Mystery” here on the Omelet.

Found-Again Friday: The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook Glossaries

Helpful Reference Volumes
Helpful Reference Volumes

Why Found-Again? Mostly because of stuff like the 3:25 point in this:

Who hasn’t taken a bit of delight in TV or movie crimespeak?

The Premise: We’re covering two glossaries in this short peek at the end of the book: the first section is general criminal argot, and the second deals with various illegal drugs and what they might be called if you want to buy them…while under cover, presumably.

“Dictionary for a Detective” is interesting on several fronts, one of which is whether some terms are slang at all: I doubt “decoy” was ever seen as “one of those weird words the young hoodlums are using these days,” for instance. (This shows up in the drug glossary as well. Was there really a time when “locked up” wasn’t seen as physically descriptive of incarceration?)

A few of the entries are still current…

Only one of those seems really outré...and a little less so than the word "outré," really.
Only one of those seems really outré…and a little less so than the word “outré,” really.

But I realized as I continued reading that what this list is really handy for circa 2016 is parsing the lingo in old Bugs Bunny cartoons and old-time radio detective shows.

In honor of the video clip.
Here are a few in honor of the video clip above.

And then there are the ones I don’t believe at all: if anyone reading this can cite even anecdotal evidence of someone saying “knowledge box” and meaning “school”—or indeed meaning anything normal at all—I will eat a hat of my choice.

See also "croaker joint."
See also “croaker joint.”

By contrast, the “High Danger” Chapter about drugs is quite informative and not as, well, goofy: it discusses the classes of drugs, street names of drugs (many of which are still used today) and terms you might hear around the buying and selling of drugs (also with much overlap with the present day). Its most dated aspects include a warning about “drug culture” that sounds lifted from you-know-what and the contents of the list itself: this was written before Ecstasy, for example, and a lot of the tranquilizers mentioned appear to have gone out of use/abuse entirely.

The Verdict: This week’s reading surprised me. I’ve spent so much time watching now-silly ’70s and ’80s crime shows that I expected the drug-slang section to be hilarious, but the terminology has been surprisingly stable between handbook-publication time and today…which I suppose could raise the question of whether “drug culture” has lost (or should lose) its scare quotes. We’ve got two more appendices to go, and then we’ll be done learning the art of detection for young people.

 

Next time: We go with the Quests on a field trip to a nerve-gas factory.

Found-Again Friday: The 1991 Dark Shadows Revival

Why Found-Again? My mother sold the family home last year, and I finally had to deal with the last thing I had left there: call it The Big Box Of J.A.’s Late Adolescence.

When I finally went though it—through the college papers and the really long satiric poems (mine) and the souvenir pom-pom from a 1991 ODU/Penn State basketball game I attended, among other odd treasures—I found neatly trimmed and stapled Soap Opera Digest recaps of every episode of what was then referred to as “the new Dark Shadows.”

Suddenly I was reminded of the weirdness of being a 17-year-old American kid with an absolutely scorching crush on Ben Cross. I suppose the answer to “Why Found-Again” might be “dignity”?

I have good taste.
What can I say? I have good taste—and that isn’t even a vampire joke.

The Premise: In the little village of Collinsport, Maine (of course it’s Maine), a down-on-his-luck handyman decides to rob the Collins family crypt and accidentally frees 200-year-old vampire Barnabas. Barnabas and his new Eurotrash wardrobe—seems there really was some gold in that crypt—pose as part of the British branch of the wealthy Collins family and are welcomed with open arms.

When the vampire meets Victoria Winters, a governess who… surprise!… looks exactly like his long-lost fiancée, the stage is set for a story of loss, anguish, revenge, witchcraft, and time travel. Shortly after the doctor who was trying to cure Barnabas turns on him…

The doctor is played by horror icon Barbara Steele, who looks at Barnabas just like I did on first viewing.
The doctor is played by horror icon Barbara Steele; if Barnabas had seen any old movies, he’d know to tread lightly.

…Victoria finds herself thrust into the 18th century, embroiled in the Collins family troubles that led to Barnabas’s vampirism. (From what I’ve heard, this throw-in-all-the-paranormal-stuff-and-see-what-sticks approach is very much in the spirit of the original series. There’s always something happening in Collinsport!)

The Dark Shadows revival has a certain thematic similarity to Highlander in that we have a protagonist who would like to end his inner turmoil and become a nice, normal, incredibly wealthy mortal guy—which in this case would deprive the audience of Ben Cross roaring with fangs bared, so I’m completely against it.

The other similarity to Highlander: Adrian Paul. Zombie Adrian Paul. Is this a great show or what?
The other similarity to Highlander: Adrian Paul. Zombie Adrian Paul. Is this a great show or what?

The Verdict: During its original run, I loved this show so much I named my hamster Josette after Barnabas’s long-lost love.  While I still enjoyed re-viewing, I must admit it no longer elicits quite that level of enthusiasm. If you are the sort of person who feels self-conscious watching something over the top, the ’90s Dark Shadows is certainly to be avoided (of course, you also won’t be reading this, since you will have perished from self-combustion somewhere around my eighth Highlander post). On the other hand, there are only twelve episodes, and it hits the comforting staples (also not a vampire joke) of everything I thought horror was as a young child.

And speaking of young children, take a look at the cast member who turned out the be the breakout movie star:

DarkShadowsWhoKnew

Might go well with: A black shirt, candlelight, anything Christopher Lee ever appeared in, a decent port.

Found-Again Friday: The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, Chapter 7

"Frank, are we being...followed?"
“Frank, are we being…followed?”

Why Found-Again? Because learning to follow people quietly is the one thing in this book most kids could do with no gear or prep. With a whole farm to practice on, this was my favorite chapter when I was a junior would-be crimefighter.

The Premise: The crime for this chapter is a triple threat: an arson occurs at a jewelry company as part of a distraction for a diamond heist, and all in service of the culprit’s drug habit. I’ve watched a jewel-heist movie or two in my time (and I may be the only one who remembers the one in the last link; the reason will become apparent in next week’s Friday post), so this was excellent.

Once again the suspect in “The Trail Beyond the Smoke Screen” is an employee of the business that’s been burgled—give the book credit for sticking close to real life here—and the process of tracking him largely falls to Frank, Joe, and Chet, who use their awesome three-man surveillance skills so adeptly they almost get murdered by drug dealers.

The drug plot ends about the way you’d expect:

I'll just be over here trying not to mention Dragnet—dammit.
I’ll just be over here trying not to mention Dragnet…dammit.

and the stones are recovered from the Fridge of Crime:

I wonder where he kept his Turkish cigarettes?
I wonder where he kept his Turkish cigarettes?

My favorite part of this story, though, was a pair of revelations—revelations to me, anyway.

The first one, and good news for the citizenry, is that Bayport PD is apparently big enough to have non-Hardy specialists.

So they probably have as many as 15 police.
So they probably have as many as 15 police. Whew!

The second is that, despite remembering Chet, Tony, Chief Collig, and even the unmentioned-in-this-handbook Aunt Gertrude from other Hardy Boys adventures, I did not remember that Mrs. Hardy is still alive. And this is where my reading went off the rails and into a new literary analogy:

  • Frank and Joe Hardy: Parents send them off to do good somewhere else with their special skills
  • Nancy Drew: Parent death, spends lots of time with family servant
  • …so Nancy Drew is Batman and the Hardys are Superman??

This is now likely to be my favorite chapter of The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook forever. Well done, pseudonymous author + FBI consultant!

The Verdict: More mixed than it sounds; this one was high on intrigue but, unless you have two friends to help, a little low on technique. That’s because the last few chapters of the handbook are storyless appendices about various aspects of crime and detection, and surveillance is covered in more depth there. This is also why we have a…

Special Note: Since the coming chapters aren’t proper stories, I’m going to try taking them two at a time, and the writeups will probably be shorter than our previous peeks into the handbook. On the upside, we’ll get to see how much drug slang has been around since the ’70s.

 

Next time: Are you ready to meet Pasha Peddler? If not, you’re going to really hate The Quest for Monday!

Found-Again Friday: Barton Fink

It’s got to be better than Beyond Therapy, right?

Why Found-Again? In the words of The Golden Girls’ Sophia Petrillo, picture it: creative writing class, 1993.

There are people in these classes who are, bluntly stated, unreasonably up themselves. The ones who think they need to drink like the Beats to write well. The ones who never seem to depart from a certain subset of “literary, but ‘edgy'” authors in their inspirations. The walking prototypes for the main character in Valerie on the Stairs.

In this class, I managed to get sandwiched between two of these guys, who spent the first half of the semester talking literally over my head about movies and beer and Carver and Updike (Palahniuk wasn’t a thing yet) until I thought I’d pull a Bertha Mason and run mad.

They were obsessed with Barton Fink, and I was soon sick of not knowing why, so on my next trip home I grabbed my friend K. and set up a movie night. My first indication that my movie nights are cursed was my decision to watch The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Barton Fink in the same night. I remember it only as a long night of shared art-film pain (well, that and the revelation that John Goodman is an amazing actor), and I haven’t touched either movie since.

By now, of course, I know there are Coen Brothers movies I like—and even love—so perhaps I was a little hard on Mr. Fink. Let’s find out.

The Premise:  In 1941, playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) is lured to Hollywood to be a screenwriter, and it goes spectacularly badly. He has writer’s block, he has a neighbor from hell—perhaps literally?—and he tries to get advice from a washed-up author who is a fictional analogue of William Faulkner, all while slowly slipping into the writers’ version of the Hollywood studio meat grinder. And then there’s the murder.

I was right about one thing all those years ago: the movie can sometimes be a little slow. That said, this quickly shot up from my previous estimation (sort of a dull groan) through “quite bearable” to “good.” It’s a fascinating combination of noir, psychological study, and to some degree a meditation on religion and ideals: Barton’s idea of serving his fellow man doesn’t long survive actually meeting his fellow man, and this drives most of the plot.  Barton Fink is one of those films Found-Again Friday was made for, and I am happy to relieve it of that other word I used to put in the middle of the title.

"She finally gets it! Drink!"
“She finally gets it! Drink!”

The Verdict: Twofold. One, this was a fun rewatching of something I thought might be agony (remember Beyond Therapy?) and provides some interesting backstory and comparisons to the Coens’ most recent release, Hail, Caesar!, since the same fictional movie studio appears in each. The second thing? After having a similar experience watching and rewatching  Mister Frost, I’m starting to suspect I can’t watch a certain kind of film too late at night—art films.  And here I’d always assumed it would be zombie movies…

Might go well with: The Shining, Miller’s Crossing, an explanation of why 90% of typewriters in movies and television are Underwoods. Really, what did Olivetti do to Hollywood?

Next time: The Quests take Hadji for a ride.

Found-Again Friday: The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, Chapter 6

(As you may notice, this week’s Friday post is on Saturday because the website went spoink! yesterday. In other news, I now know one elementary way to unspoink a website.)

Why Found-Again? Because for some reason no one’s gotten around to making CSI: Bayport yet.

My favorite part of this one is the way Joe(?) is side-eyeing my pretty ruler.
My favorite part of this one is the way Joe(?) is stink-eyeing my pretty ruler.

The Premise: We’re back in sit-Chet-down-and-talk-at-him mode for the beginning of this chapter, “The Clue of the Broken Pencil,” while all three Hardys take the poor lad through the basics of crime scene photography and recording. They start, however, with this howler:

Hardypocrites

To put this in context, every person involved in the above conversation was standing over a murdered policeman’s body in Chapter 5, and every person involved is still not a law-enforcement officer*. (This is one of the things I miss about having a kid’s perspective on this book: when I first read it, well, of course it was okay for teenagers to be hanging around multiple crime scenes! Kids are smart, right?)

No sooner have the Hardys taught Chet how to graph items on scene sketches—and as ever, my respect for the real-life people who did all this stuff by hand only grows with each chapter—than word comes in of a burglary. A burglary at a factory that makes gold- and silver-rimmed eyeglasses. That’s right, somebody spends time in this story running around with a literal chest full of gold. Arrrrrr.

The chest is recovered in the woods, and one of Chet’s crime-scene sketches eventually reveals the robbery was an inside job. The police catch up with the crooked bookkeeper, and a search reveals the titular broken pencil.

This is the handbook's version of suspect search. Seems way more involved than the frisking you see on TV.
This is the handbook’s version of suspect search. Seems way more involved than the frisking you see on TV.

(Those of you still seeking tips for budding villains can now add “Make sure your car isn’t likely to break down” to the list. At least it wasn’t Turkish cigarettes this time.)

When confronted, the bad guy actually says “You’ve got nothing on me, copper,” for which alone he deserves jail time.

The Verdict: I liked the apprehension of the suspect (and the box o’ gold), but all in all, this wasn’t one of the better chapters. It’s a slightly dry subject, there isn’t a lot of integration with previous chapters, and the story leans too hard on Chet making all the good discoveries in the first half. When we find out the villain said the police were hicks, we shouldn’t have sympathy for his opinion—but they were just schooled by a teenaged tyro.

 

*I can’t say for sure that Fenton’s not some kind of honorary deputy, since this is the only Hardy Boys book I’ve read in 20+ years. He certainly should be if he’s just going to hang around all the time.

 

Next time: Get a rope.