Roma was a bad movie. I didn't like Roma! Can I just say that???

If you’ve been to film school, and/or studied film in any way, and are getting older like me, you know it when you see it - the self-concious attempt to be precocious, special, precious. It happens when a film director deliberately wants to be “arty.”

Spoilers for ROMA, below!

Also, sometimes filmmakers relate “slow” with being “arty,” when really “slow” means “boring,” or, “pointless.”

In Roma, both of the above issues happen. A lot. From the guy who made City of Men! Who made authentic, visceral, unaffected work. I don’t get it.

Take the car, for example. You know, the car that takes 10 minutes to park. What does this tell us? It can’t be about the monotony of manual labor - it’s the affluent man of the house arriving (with driver and all, natch). It can’t be about the limitations of money causing a tight residential space - because again, these people are affluent - they just live in a somewhat dense area, building-wise. So WTF was it? I’ll tell you what it was about - it was about nothing.

Is the car parked yet??

Is the car parked yet??

Let’s also take the lead character. She’s an everywoman, nearly mute, barely talking. Others swoop her up, take over her care, talk AT her, not with her. She is nearly a void. It’s dehumanizing. Where is her inner life? She is made to be even more of a servant than she already is.

And don’t get me started about the kung fu situation with the guy’s penis swinging around. Good lord!

Reviewers have to wake up. This is the same old trying to be arty bullshit that used to work in the 80s but is old and pointless now. It’s too bad Bradley Cooper didn’t get an Oscar nom - his directing was unaffected, immersive, to the point, and organic to the material. Nothing hoity-toity. And that’s the true definition of ‘artistic.’

Lay off my Shows: Reviewing the new Fall Series

I used to be a film reviewer, and I definitely had high standards. But not everything, IMO, needs to be challenging, serious, complex, artful. We need candy. We need a little cheese. We need mainstream entertainment - for relaxation, comfort, excitement. It doesn’t have to be DUMB - but I’ll take “street smart” as much as I’ll take “intellectual.”

The same can be said for my TV tastes. I love prestige shows like Westworld, Sharp Objects, The Wire (OH THE WIRE!!) and others, but I also LOOOVE good solid mainstream dramas. Procedurals, sci-fi, family dramas. Bring it on!

So when critics started laying into two of my new favorite mainstream shows Magnum PI and Manifest, I got annoyed. Do they know what they’re actually reviewing? These are ‘fun’ shows. (Kudos to this review of FBI that totally acknowledged it did exactly what it was supposed to do, and well.) Sit back and chill shows. Shows that distract us from the imminent collapse of civility and democracy.

Some reviewers like the FBI reviewer, ‘got it’ and saw the forest for the trees - others were seriously over the top in their snobbery. Relax, buddy - you don’t have to watch it with us peasants!

My Favorite Fall TV Shows So Far

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Manifest on NBC

This show is actually denser, more emotionally evocative, than I thought. It mixes, with dexterity, the odd and uneasy feeling of what it’s like to be gone for 5 years and come back unchanged - while your loved ones move on. Then there’s the possible spiritual element that ties the passengers of the flight together- with a bizarre plot twist in each episode. It’s a mix of tones and story lines, but it works. There are deep, heavy moments, executed by very capable actors, and a lack of the over the top music cues that some shows rely far too much on. Also - there’s a deadly mystery at work as well, hooking in all of us crime show types. A total win. (And the ratings show it.)

Magnum PI on CBS

Camaraderie. Hot guy. Tough woman. Cool cars. Hawaii. Procedural-type plots. Nothing fancy; crowd-pleasing; easy on the eyes. After a long day, with a glass of wine? Fantastic.

Single Parents

I’ll actually agree with the critics - Taran Killiam’s character is a little too stupid-emotional to get much empathy, but I feel the cast start to meld together better. It’s a cool group of parents that I wish I were a part of! That’s a big hook for any show - making the viewer feel like they are becoming part of a community.

God Friended Me

I love this show. (And it’s not doing TOO bad on Rotten Tomatoes, though still at less than 70%.) It brings up a the age-old argument, Does God Exist?, and has no easy answers - and the whimsical nature of the “God” that friended atheist podcaster Miles is both charming and mysterious. The characters are mainstream-TV charming, but textured enough to be engaging. And I cry at every episode so far (2 total), and I do not cry easily. I’m used to TV pulling the puppet strings at cheap emotional moments - but this show really gets me. What I want is for critics to try, for themselves, writing a half hour show - while doing so, hit a typical chord, execute a mysterious story line per week, and manage to inject it with humor and good characters. It’s not easy!


Did you Miss the Serial Podcast? Welcome back, Sarah


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Did you miss Serial? Did you skip season 2? I actually really enjoyed season 2 - as Crime WRiters On said, Season 1 was lightening in a bottle…that’s not gonna happen twice.

Or is it? I listened to episode 1 of Season 3 and am already hooked. Now that I’ve listened to so many other investigative podcasts, Sarah Koenig’s expertise and style stands out as the bar none of radio investigative journalists. The way she sets the scene, and allows us to feel like she is in our ‘everyman’ shoes - yet also gives us confidence in her expertise - is spot-on. It’s from years and years of being a crime and investigative reporter.

Season 2 was more straightforward investigating - her interaction with the players was minimal, and she was more storytelling in the style of a newsmagazine. Now, she’s back in the mix - sometimes her all too human reactions seem a little disingenuous, belying her intensive background as a reporter (including for the Baltimore Sun) - but I’ll buy it, hook, line and sinker.

The first episode is a recounting of a rather absurd case where a woman defending herself from a group assault was the only one arrested. It’s very linear, accented with body cam footage, interviews with both prosecutor and defense attorney, and showcasing also the cycle of troubles people find themselves in. Those of us in our cozy middle class lives need to hear about how the other side lives, and the court system that rarely affects us - except in unrealistic episodes of Law and Order.

I’m in - and letting the episodes stack up a little bit, though I’m so ready to hear the recaps from the Crime Writers On Gang. But, to distract me - I’ ve got Slow Burn, Crimetown Season 2…I’ll be fine.

Security Guard Secrets: The Inside Scoop

Some of my job involves events, which at many places involves interfacing with security to manage and protect guests (sometimes from themselves... I've seen some drunken brawls break out!).  Many are former or off duty cops, and boy do I pick their brains, being a true crime devotee.  Recently, one of the security managers I just worked with (retired LAPD) promised to connect me to one of his former colleagues in the L.A. area for a ride along. I am STOKED!  To be continued...

My conversation with this security manager called to mind others I had in the past.  One was particularly interesting; he worked for years at a luxury hotel in a chi-chi part of Southern California. He signed an airtight NDA, as you can imagine.  He didn't name any names or even any specific details. What he did say, was that back in the day, escorts dressed up so well that no one was the wiser; bigwigs in the industry could walk into the hotel with their call girls, and regular patrons and tourists wouldn't catch on.  The security personnel and hotel employees knew, however.  They would call the cops regardless; then, the bigwigs in town - men of wealth and power - complained to the local cops and eventually, the hotel staff were told, 'let it go' -turn a blind eye.

I feel like, a living's a living - sex work can be dangerous and damaging in many ways - but it is sometimes work that provides valuable income.  That said, in recent years, the escorts have started dressing less upscale and more playful, and hotel guests occasionally gawk. A dangerous game for well known industry titans, but perhaps their arrogance (see: Les Moonves? not known for hotel visits, but his casting couch certainly seemed busy) deludes them into thinking they can get away with everything.

The RFK Tapes Podcast : Open Secrets

So I was a little suspicious about the conspiracies coming out of the RFK Tapes Podcast (an offshoot from the team from CrimeTown - hosted by Zac Stuart-Pontier).  SPOILERS AHEAD! BTW.

But when I started listening, I got sucked into co-host Bill Klaber's calm but intense insistence that something's up.  Bill has been following this for years, and a high profile politico, p Congressman Allard Lowenstein, had been presenting credible theories as well. (Sadly, he met his own untimely death similar to Kennedy.)

Then as an aside - so casually - a bonus episode, featuring a woman, Geneva White, who (SPOILERS!!) overheard a conversation about the plot to kill JFK on a near deathbed confession - really gives one pause.  Are these guys really on to something? I found something interesting online about another deathbed confession about the assassination that will lead you right down a deep, dark rabbit hole. (Keep looking - here, and here.) Who knows?

With RFK, there seems to be more openness about it - so many witnesses, after all - yet because there was no social media or widespread instant communication, the LAPD were easily able to sweep a key aspects of the case under the rug.  The most stunning example of this is the latest episode, The Girl In the Polka Dot Dress. There is a witness at the shooting who LITERALLY SAW A WOMAN IN A POLKA DOT DRESS RUN PAST HER AND SAY "WE SHOT HIM" who also SPOKE ABOUT THIS ON THE NEWS, but the police brainwash her into recanting.  The tapes are compelling and I'm now about convinced Sirhan Sirhan didn't act alone. 

Will this be the first podcast to crack open a national conspiracy?  Or will we keep ruminating on all things Kennedy conspiracies for infinity with no resolution?  Till we find out, it's entertaining listening, that's for sure.

We need to talk about death and dying, guys

A profound thing happened to me last year:  My mother in law died. She was in her late 80s and had suffered from various ailments, and towards the end she couldn't move or talk or barely eat.  I found that our family wanted to her live for many more weeks, but I saw her there lying helpless, and wondered what kind of life was that.  I would not want to "live" that way. It wasn't living. It was the end of a life well lived; and it was compassionate to let her go.  The holding on to her was close to torture, but I understood why we wanted to hang on.  Perhaps, I thought, with my mother it would be different.

Well, it wasn't.  My mom fought cancer 3 times, and won - until the cancer returned and spread to stage-4 lung cancer.  At this point (the diagnosis came in early May), she was on a feeding tube full time, her neck was bent nearly perpendicular to her body due to osteoprosis, and she was so weak that she couldn't send emails anymore (our primary method of communication - due to tongue cancer surgery, she couldn't talk as clearly as she used to).  My brother and I heard the news, that the docs would try to see if she could manage any treatment, but we each on our own started preparing ourselves for her inevitable passing.  As hard as it was, we knew she beat the odds for years; I felt like it was borrowed time and tried not to take it for granted. It was tough, and devastating.

Unfortunately the doctors were not very upfront with my parents, and they actually thought Mom could take this cancer on, too. Then, about a month ago, she went into respiratory distress and the medical team at the hospital where she was staying intubated her.  At this point, my dad called and asked me and my brother to come out and see her - he didn't know how many days she had left.

What happened next was excruciating. Despite painful suctions of her lungs, not being able to get up to use the restroom, and being artificially kept alive, my mom fought her passing.  She pushed her self to stay as alert as possible, and refused to make a decision to remove the ventilator (and in her Fentanyl haze, I'm not sure if she knew at first what the situation was - and can you blame her for not wanting to decide on the day of her passing?)  A doctor pulled me aside and said he was surprised she was even awake - most patients in this condition, he told me, are unconscious. ("Welcome to my mother," i wanted to say - the toughest lady I know.). Had they not intubated her in the first place, mom would have passed due to the natural result of her cancer, but in the heat of the moment, the medical team just did what they're supposed to do - keep someone alive, at all costs.  And for the next two weeks - yes, two full weeks, many days more than the medical personnel predicted- mom lived in various states of fear, panic, stubbornness, anger, and, I'm glad to say, at least some moments of alertness and reminiscing - but as the days wore on, the pain and discomfort got worse.

Finally the team told her they had to remove the ventilator by the end of the second week. She risked infection; there was no more hope for her.  The ventilator was prolonging the inevitable. We were exhausted and overwrought - you cling to your loved one, but yet it kills you to see them suffer.  But she got what she wanted - to be with us for two more weeks.  Would it have been more peaceful if they had not intubated? I think so. Had I wish that happened? Maybe not, because we have notebooks full of her final words that we wouldn't have had.  But the point of DNR (do not resuscitate) orders, and for doctors to be honest with their patients about inevitable outcomes, is for these Sophie's Choice issues not to arise.

Finding peace in death is something our society needs to work on. We know intellectually it is just as natural as birth, but of course we fight it instead of welcome it, because it means saying goodbye.  But fighting to survive when survival isn't possible, or hanging on to someone when they are just a shell of themselves, proprogates suffering and distress. It's undignified and traumatizing, and it's really because our culture does not respect death.

Am I petrified of death? I am.  This experience taught me to start getting right with it; to start making peace with end of life as much as possible. I hope for doctors to be compassionate but frank with their clients, so they can start readying themselves for the reality of the situation, and prepare their family and make arrangements.  I wish we had been given this gift.

I did some research and there are some really interesting organizations and media on the web as a reference:  Death Cafe, which has events across the country for in-depth discussions; the energetic and witty Ask a Mortician; and this really helpful post on Lifehacker.

Do I want to live as long as I can? Hell yah. Do I want to go with peace, acceptance, and dignity? Yep.  So I'm going to start making peace with it now.

 

Christmas in April: Golden State Killer is CAUGHT

If you're true crime podcast listener, all your feeds no doubt blew up the. night of April 24th. The next day, I listened to Martinis and Murder, My Favorite Murder, and Crime Writers On discuss the capture, as well as saw Patton Oswalt talk about his late wife Michelle McNamara's role in increasing awareness of the case on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

(Everyone has said how much work and credit go to the detectives and police force of Sacramento County, but it's fair to suggest that McNamara's book and articles on the murderer gave the search for the GSK momentum.)

Details are starting to come in.  His past as a cop, his sister's reaction; the reveal that a consumer genealogy site was used to catch him; and now his first court appearance.  To be able to break down (hint hint Bill Rankin - I know it's not local to ATL, but c'mon!) this court case with the extensive background knowledge of the crimes is going to fascinate listeners, provide some measure of surety to victims and their families, and hopefully scare potential predators from terrorizing their neighborhoods.

New Favorite True Crime Podcasts and Why

As a former TV producer, I like organized, well-laid out podcasts.  Just as we had a firm structure to the TV episodes we produced, a podcast should have a good structure, move quickly, and not be self indulgent. Just the facts, ma'am . (Exception: My Favorite Murder. yes, I'm a 'skipper,' moving past the first 20 minutes of banter, but if accidentally don't go too far enough, the ladies are really funny and easy to listen to.  They have a rare chemistry and comic instincts - after all, they are both professional performers/writers in one way or another.)

There are so many out there now, it's impossible to keep track.  I've culled through a lot of stinkers to find my new favorites (to find their place on my playlist next to the venerable OG true crime podcasts such as Last Podcast from the Left, Undisclosed, Crime Writers On, etc.)

My new favorites:

1. Misconduct.  Colleen and Eileen carefully break down crimes in a compact podcast, with a little friendly catchup at the beginning. I like their voices in particular; to me, they sound just as good as any NPR reporter on the air. 

2.  Getting Off.  Wanna be lawyers will LOVE this one! Two criminal defense attorneys, Jessa and Nick, discuss in great detail famous cases.  Throwing out their expertise with enthusiasm, you learn a ton about the legal process. They're long, but no minute is wasted.  Sometimes they eat during and the mic picks it up - I don't really care, but purists out there might.  (But really, I don't care.)

3.  Crime In Sports.  It's weird - I really don't follow sports (except for a new fascination with figure skating thanks to Tara Lapinksy and Johnny Weir) but I love the dramatic stories behind the games.  This takes the drama one step further:  Two comedians, James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman, take on craziest crime stories in atheletics. Very funny, and well produced.

Lady Bird was.... Okay? Film Reviews and Criticism 2017

As part of the Screen Actor's Guild (for a few years pounding the pavement many years ago as an ertswhile actor), I get to watch screenings every winter to prepare for voting.

I also have a background as a film reviewer for a major website, and after awhile watching movie after movie, I saw patterns emerge, and tropes repeat.  This didn't jade me so much as keep my eyes peeled for movies that reinvented the wheel somewhat, and not repeat the same concepts mindlessly.  For Indie movies, I'd often witness a sense of twee-ness, of quirky heroes, and touching twists towards the end, and the repetitiveness got almost annoying.

For this reason, while I liked Lady Bird and I think Greta Gerwig is very talented, the overwhelming gush of critical acclaim doesn't seem authentic.  It's not a bad movie, but it re-tread the same emotions and conflicts of many a movie before it, and act three was sort of 'meh.' 

Let's turn to Shape of Water as well.  Again, nonstop love and adoration from critics. But there were clear issues to it - some slow and indulgent pacing, some on-the-nose social commentary.  The effects and cinematography were terrific, it was an artistic achievement different than m ost, and most of the acting was spot on - Michael Shannon's character was way too over the top, but I don't fault him, I fault the script - but it wasn't nearly the perfect movie many of the reviews attest to.

So what's happening? I'm glad reviewers aren't as bitchy any more (I went to film school and was a field producer for TV, so I know how HARD it is to make a movie that even makes sense - whereas some critics came from an ivory tower built of lack of technical knowledge).  But they've tilted now to the other side of the spectrum.  Thus, good movies are being elevated to great.  But word of mouth among the people - we commoners - is a different story.  Too long, too twee, not as original as it thinks it is - those are comments among movie goers about these otherwise lauded films.

Then, if a movie doesn't have a perfect pedigree, it's dismissed.  For example, Legally Blond is one of my favorite movies. I know, it's a piece of fluff, but it's actually very tightly written, with plot revolving around character beautifully and a fantastic payoff at the end. (I also have a very mainstream taste in pop culture sometimes - just like I used to like the "Real Housewives" series until they became too scripted).  It's really HARD to write a silly comedy that's effective, harder perhaps than it is to write a navel-gazing indie film, where plot may be more fluid. 

Legally Blond isn't actually haha funny most of the time, but where it draws people in is character.  You end up rooting for the heroine, and hoping the plot pays out for her.  It's not a comedic masterpiece, but it's a good fable for the underdog, and it's undeniably charming.

Would I expect LB to be taught in film school? No, but I do think it's a good case study for a screenwriting class (for attendees who want to prepare for making money in mainstream Hollywood).  It's a great example of solid character development, tight plotting, and broad crowd appeal without completely pandering to its audience. It's just fun, and whether or not that wins an Oscar, that type of entertainment should be respected as well.  Just because certain people and certain subject matter are part of a film should not make people automatically gush over it.

My favorite film reviewer(i.e the one I agree with most) is David Edelstein of Vulture.  He writes balanced reviews that can give props to a movie without falling all over himself,  like this review of Shape of Water.

So will critics be a little more evenhanded next year? We shall see.  There has to be a balance between mean castigation and effusive, blind adoration.

 

 

Survivors: the Cleveland Kidnappings

I've been listening to Killafornia Dreaming Podcasts' vacation series and was blown away by part 1 about the Cleveland, Ohio kidnappings, wisely named after the survivors, Michelle, Amanda, and Georgia.

Who knew the podcast ep would time with the discovery a Perris, CA creepy-ass couple was keeping their kids chained up, and starved and otherwise abused.   I'm so glad they escaped, but what a horrific situation. How can humans do this to another? 

What I loved about the podcast is how how   host detailed the womens' lives, and how they came to be in this horrible situation. It humanized the event and made us feel viscerally there with them; they felt like real people to me, more so than they had when I read about the event. It's astonishing how this guy had a family that had no idea it was occurring.

As I await part 2, I went back down an internet rabbit hole. Here are some interesting links about the case and how the survivors rebuilt their lives.

Update on Survivors - 5/17

Interview with Amanda and Gina

Ariel Castro's daughter speaks to CNN

Big Little Lies: Women's Truth (SPOILERS)

I finally got HBO Go last week (where have you been all my life?!?) and almost immediately binged Big Little Lies. At first, I thought it was going to be an exercise in schadenfreude - about watching others with gorgeous, beautiful houses and lots of money tear each other apart socially and snarking while they did  it. (I guess I'm sort of an evil person deep down?!?)  But instead, it shows people who when the surface is scratched, are sincerely trying to their best, and cross class lines to bond together and protect each other.  (I should have known better - I've read another book by BLL's author, Liane Moriarty, and it avoided easy stereotypes.) This actually reflects my own experience as a woman, and the knowing looks, gentle gossip over wine, and pep talks the women share are very similar to my life, and this drew me closer than if it was a negative look at the lives of the rich and spoiled.

The reaction I didn't think I'd have is the tightened stomach-terror I got every time Nicole Kidman's character, Celeste, was abused by her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard).  I've seen scenes of domestic abuse before of course in films and tv; but this was so much more authentic to me than any other portrayal I've ever seen - because Perry's diabolical side is so totally opposite his perfect-husband facade.  The spiral down from the warmth and passion he projects to the abusive behavior is so gradual, just a crack here - his eyes glint a certain way there - that you know it's coming, and a dread takes over.  This show's portrayal of abuse is such a clarified presentation of it that it has truly changed my view of abuse, how it can be so carefully hidden. It opened my eyes more than any other show (fiction or non) I've seen on the subject.  Skarsgard had likely the most difficult role in it.

Parting Thoughts:

  • First you think Reese Witherspoon is peak Tracy Flick-Plus in this, but her performance is leavened with sincerity.  She takes what could be a caricature and makes her one of the most sympathetic characters on TV this year.
  • I agree with Celeste (and I've seen reviews point this out too) - assembling ikea furniture can be the last straw when you're at the end of your rope.
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  • The best piece on BLL, IMO is this article in New Yorker by Jia Tolentino.
  • My favorite scene: When Jane and Renata clear the air and come to a rational conclusion about the false-accusations swirling around their kids. It's a fantastic showcase in how powerful empathy can be.
     

Criminal Confessions: Oxygen's Best New True Crime Show

With the rebrand to all true-crime on Oxygen, there was an inundation of new content for mystery fans like myself.  My favorite of all of these is Criminal Confessions.  It's so cool watching the bad guys crack...and the show takes you into the investigation as well.  Interviews with family and friends of the victim and the detectives and prosecutors gives an inside look into the investigation, with the satisfying conclusion of seeing the perpetrator(s) confess. IMO, it's Oxygen's best new crime show.

My job used to be a super high stress one where i had to deal with multiple personality types, and super stressful situations (fabricated more by the people that I was working with and heightened by their emotions), and seeing cops on tv shows keeping their cool in LEGIT true crime stressful situations, and getting people to talk to them without losing their authority (Cold Justice is good for this too - about half of it is the team talking to people, including suspects).  I felt it was like diplomacy on speed. Even if you don't like the person you're talking to, you may not want to be adversarial. You have to use instinct and emotional intelligence, backed by knowledge.  So Criminal Confessions, which is pretty much all interrogation, has become extremely useful to me.

A few things that stand out to me about Criminal Confessions:

  • You see how body language, verbal communication, and communication techniques in general can ease a suspect into cracking.  There are some amazing techniques I never knew about.  There was one in particular when a rookie detective used some really brilliant language to finally melt a guy who was Just.Not.Talking. (I won't spoil it - watch the ep here.)

 

  • Going in cold and not knowing nothing about the case would obviously never fly if you are an investigator, but I've had many people (including older gentlemen cokcy about their negotiation skills) come into a meeting with me sure they can knock down my price or other peoples' prices (I worked a lot in project management where I had to secure vendors) but they knew nothing about our costs and overhead. I wanted to laugh them out of the room but instead i calmly educated them about my / other's services. So yeah...the more prepared you are, the better leverage you have over the other person.

Highlighting the Investigative Team on Criminal Confessions

I also love how the true crime show highlights the struggle of the detectives and the heart they bring to the work.  Sometimes they'll say how emotional they got, how frustrated. We're so used to seeing cops being calm, cool and collected, but this show allows us to see the human side. 

And that's why I love Criminal Confessions...businesspeople, lawyers, anyone who negotiates a lot or is in stressful situations with difficult personalities, I highly recommend they watch this show.

Martinis and Murder: My new favorite podcast

If you're a true crime buff, you've been all over the rebrand of Oxygen.  I myself was THRILLED to see Cold Justice reappear on the channel, and have been watching it religiously now that it's back on TV.  As I was watching the premiere (or maybe it was the second ep), I saw the hashtag #martinisandmurder on the lower right of the screen, touting the podcast of the same name.

I'm so glad I checked it out, because it's a very organized, well-researched podcast, with content from a variety of resources, including Oxygen content.  So if you don't have time to watch Snapped or other specials, they've got you covered.

Daryn Carp and John Thrasher provide a combination of researched explanations and of-the-people commentary about the events that unfold in each of their cases, and wicked humor as well, since they're always exasperated by Matt the producer/drinks maker (each podcast features a martini recipe that they sip on throughout the episode). 

So while it's clearly a way to market Oxygen's rebrand and content, it stands on its own and comes across as an authentic breakdown of the craziest crimes of recent memory, and provides two charismatic hosts that now have their own growing fan base.  One more fabulous podcast to add to the playlist.

Oh Hell No: Payne Lindsay is NOT a podcaster, everyone

Picture this: I'm on a plane,delayed several hours, having been stuck in airport limbo waiting for this connecting flight. I'm tired, I overspent on airplane food (having no other options), and I turn to my precious Stitcher app to see what podcast can ease my way for the final hour of my long trip.

I see that "Crime Writers On" is spilling tea about a certain happening at the podcast convention (Podcast Movement) some of the hosts attended, about Payne Lindsey. If you don't know him, he's the creator of "Up and Vanished," where he looked into the case of a Tara Grinstead. SPOILER BELOW:

Possibly due to the attention his podcast drew to the case, an arrest was made.

Anyone would be a little proud of the effect their work had on a real life case, but Lindsay took it to the next level.  He aired segments of interviews of people complimenting him on his work, and then had a live show of the podcast that was way too over the top considering the sobering case as its subject.  I was disconcerted by this, and wasn't too sure about listening to the next season. Also, the final few episodes were super repetitive.

Well, apparently his arrogance also spread to real life, as described by the team at Crime Writers On.  He gave a presentation disparaging other podcasters (!) far more experienced than he, and had models in t-shirts with supposedly disruptive messaging ( I believe he wore a shirt that said I AM NOT A PODCASTER).  This also turned into a twitter war between established podcasters and Lindsay's acolytes.  Listen to the recap here.

This whole affair shines a light on the fine line between investigation and entertainment.  While Serial revolutionized podcasts, Hae Min Lee's family is still grieving intensely and dealing with the publicity.  An episode of "Snapped" may be engrossing television,  but real people die in the telling. That said, for the most part, the best true crime podcasts have an activist, heartfelt feel, and you don't see people like Bob Ruff and the  Undisclosed team parading around like peacocks.  They're too busy solving crimes and saving lives to do so.

Funnily enough, a parody podcast that really nails Up and Vanisheds' MO and style, Done Disappeared, is becoming a hit and is a total delight. It pokes gentle fun and even skewered Crime Writers On, much to their delight.  John David Booter (also a hilarious name) is investigating the disappearance of Clara Pockets, in 10-minute hysterical snippets that also parody the ads that show up during these podcasts (I particularly love when something horrific is being detailed in a podcast and then it cuts to, with no warning, a jaunty ad for, like, Blue Apron.)  Well done, John David, whoever you REALLY are (perhaps a podcaster who attended the Podcast Movement conference?)

 

 

Search Party : Season Two Is Killin It (Pun Intended) SPOILERS

I'm the kind of person that doesn't like anything too dark. Of course, I watch true crime shows, but they don't layer on extra pathos or sadness - they're straightforward and matter of fact.  But navel-gazing, overwrought dramas with uneasy or unhappy endings, I just don't like. I struggled with anxiety and mild depression off and on in my life, and now after feeling really in control of my issues, I just like what I like and avoid anything too depressing.

So I thought I'd have issues with Search Party, as the marketing pitched it as hipsters finding themselves, colored with lots of stares into the uncertain future and pretentious bon mots - I had to watch it though as of course it was about an investigation, how could I not? And I'm so glad I did - I LOVE IT.  It's now become a twisted Thanksgiving tradition (it premieres around mid or late Nov).  I'm sure you've heard of it (and have watched it since the headline boldly proclaims SPOILERS), but if you haven't, it's about a group of hipsters, who indulge their friend Dory's obsession with finding a missing acquaintance from her college days.  They all fit a hipster stereotype - the flitty actress (Meredith Hagner), the normcore boyfriend (John Reynolds), the man-about-town but how-does-he-pay-rent-does-he-have-a-job? fabulous fabulist (John Early playing Elliot, who is one of the funniest fucking people alive).  Leading them all is Dory, the millennial leading a meh life who craves authority and excitement. She is played by the magnetic Alia Shawkat who I want to see in everything now as I can't take my eyes off her when she's on screen.

What makes the show so great is that tonally it nails both dark humor, intense drama (someone gets killed in the first season, and the second season is about thwarting the authorities), and hipster satire.  The actors do play stereotypes, but they fill them in with so many shades of quirks, humor, desperation, everything - and do it so well.  And I have to say it again - John Early is a freakin genius. That's saying a lot because the other actors are also brilliant.  PS Early's outfits are amazing, and I found the designer who makes Elliot's style come to life on Instagram, give her a follow: Heidi Lee.

There's a really amazing alignment with the show and the sexual harassment reckoning happening now, where it calls to question legitimately a woman's claim of abuse, and female-on-male harassment.  Totally in the zeitgeist and mind blowing considering the episodes were, I imagine, shot before the Harvey Weinstein scandal started the tsunami of allegations.  So well done and it flips on its head the whole issue.  Search Party is about truth and how we try to hide behind it, and while it seems this season may not lead to many more plot twists, I'm hoping it becomes a Thanksgiving tradition for at least a few more years.

Dirty John - Trusting Women and the Families Who Love Them - SPOILERS

When I started listening to Dirty John, I wasn't sure where it was headed. I figured someone died at the end, but probably not anyone close to the protagonist, Debra.  She seemed so even keeled and didn't cry or sound upset at any point.  Her children were all on tape, all accounted for.

Like most listeners, I became infuriated that Debra kept going back to John. And it was just as interesting listening to two podcasts ABOUT Dirty John (yes, the meta world of true crime podcasts...like Russian Nesting Dolls, many podcasts are about commenting on OTHER podcasts, in a good way) to understand my reaction, and clarify what Debra was going through.

(Via LATIMES.com) - Terra Newell and her dog Cash, who both fought off her attacker. 

(Via LATIMES.com) - Terra Newell and her dog Cash, who both fought off her attacker. 

On Real Crime Profile, Laura Richards reminds us that abused women often go back to their abuser several times before finally leaving him.  This is no different.  On Crime Writers On, Kevin Flynn reminds us it's about a con man, not a woman's love life.  I was shocked to hear a lingering wistfulness in Debra's voice when she reviewed her wedding footage, and didn't seem to sound very sad about the near death and attack on her daughter (which perhaps was expressed but edited out).  But after listening to these other podcasts, I'm realizing she was in an abusive relationship and under a mind control of sorts, and it takes a lot of courage to get away from this type of abuse.  More podcasts about women who have escaped and survived these relationships will perhaps help clear away misunderstandings and misconceptions we all have of abuse.  The fact that it was also a survival story of a young woman who fought off an attacker is also important and heartening for women to listen to - too often we're the fatal victims of violence in the these stories.

Thinking Sideways

One of my favorite podcasts (out of soooo many I listen to) is the Thinking Sideways podcast. It's three buddies who met at a bar (love it already!) who like to talk about mysteries, conspiracies, and other unknowns.  The first half is one of them explaining what the case is, then the second half-ish is all about theories. 

It's very lowkey, easygoing, and almost comforting to listen to...but not slow paced, mind you.  It really does sound like three smart, curious buddies at a bar thoroughly unpacking a mystery.  My favorite episodes so far include the cruise ship disappearance of Rebecca Corriam (Devon's experience working a cruise ship added a great dimension to the episode) and the faux identity of Jonathan Newton Chandler.

Some podcasters don't have a very tight flow or outline to work from - you can tell, they loosey-goosey go lazily from topic to another, which gets aggravating - what I like about this group is, they are conversational and casual, but they definitely organize their talking points - you can tell (or at least it SOUNDS like it!).  All in all a great listen - and highly recommended.

The best way to get to know the Adnan Syed Case

I finally read Adnan's Story, and it was dense, detailed, and very concise - exactly what I wanted. I liked the insight into Adnan's Muslim culture and Rabia's personal life (how she got through her first marriage, I'll never know...good for her).  The letters from Adnan and copies of court documents, emails, and other correspondence added that extra layer of making you feel like you were along for the ride during the investigation.

What I liked best is that Adnan's Story is that it's like a recap on steriods, a summary, if you will, of everything that Serial started.  Here is what I recommend for newbies to Serial Season 1 (as I'm sure there are people very day finally catching up to it):

1. Listen to Serial Season 1.

2. Listen to Serial Dynasty/Truth and Justice alongside Undisclosed Season 1, maybe alternate episodes or listen to them concurrently.

3.  Read Adnan's Story.

Supplement all of this with articles from Popdust, reportage fromThe Frisky, some OG analysis from Susan Simpson pre-Undisclosed on her blog the View from LL2, and Colin Miller's constantly updated and outstanding legal-class-in-a-blog, the EvidenceProf blog.

My favorite part of the book is where Rabia lays out what she thinks happens.  It's what you're waiting for the whole book - who did it, and how? She doesn't throw any names out there - she theorizes throughout the book, but leaves it as simply "he" in the final paragraphs - but she spells out clearly a very well thought out theory.  Overall, a well-done book and utterly satisfying, and leaving its reader with some hope that 1) Hae will finally get justice, and 2) Adnan will be freed.

Scandal in the OC: LA Times exposes a frameup

Was reading about Rabia Chaudry's book in the LA Times (here's the link) when at the bottom, was a link to a story about a PTA mom being framed...I totally bit, and got consumed with this fascinating 6-part story (they're four parts in) about a diabolical plan to basically ruin a person's life.  I wont' say more, but you have to read it. Okay, I'll say one thing: It reminds me of people who are obsessed with image, and their kids.  Like their kids have to be the center of everyone else's universe, not just their own.  Ugh.  Really enjoyed this article.

Meantime, I'm also reading "Adnan's Story," and found it immersive from the get-go. Additional insight from Rabia about her own life (including what sounds like a disastrous first marriage) and her Muslim culture is really fascinating, and we also get to read firsthand Adnan's thoughts and opinions.  It's also the pre-eminent guide to his case, bringing together all in once place all the facts of the case and the timeline of the case from beginning to end.  One of those books that makes you want to call in sick and finish in one fell swoop...if only!

Unlocking the Truth on MTV

Shockingly, with all the mystery/social justice/true crime podcasters I follow, I had no idea Unlocking the Truth was coming up until just about 2 weeks ago.  It's because I watch Catfish, which is basically the only show I watch on MTV because I'm so past the Millennial age bracket.  But Unlocking the Truth seems to be something just as ready for TNT or more older-demographic oriented channels, though it has the MTV touch (music, quick editing, two young hosts).

For this inaugural season, they are looking into two cases:  Michael Politte, and Kalvin Michael Smith.  Politte was accused of murdering his mother, Rita, and we learn a lot about his case in the first ep.  Through the first hour, we learn that, big shock, a kid is questioned without counsel, the evidence is shaky, but OH! He failed a voice analysis test. (WHAT?) Do you think they also checked into Rita's ex-husband's situation and treat HIM like a suspect?

Other thoughts:

1.  Traces of evidence on his shoes totally echoes Edward Ate's case.

2. Tunnel Vision: The great killer of justice. Would it have taken that much longer to dig deeper into Rita's ex?  How different would the Adnan Syed case have turned out if they dug deeper into Don's falsified time cards (whether or not that meant he was guilty, it seemed a heck of a lot more proof he did something than Jay WIlds' bizarre testimony).

Also compelling is the host's background, Ryan Ferguson and Eva Nagau. I actually want to learn more about Eva and hear some of her stories from past cases she's worked on.  Ryan's situation is delved into in great detail, and you can read more about him here and here . His family had the resources to keep pushing to get him out of prison, a stark contrast to the two prisoners that this show is helping this season, who desperately need the help of these two and the Midwest Innocence Project. I'm already fascinated by the show and can't wait for the next episode.