Monday, November 7, 2016

Presidents and Prime Suspects

Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison
Jane Tennison got me thinking about Hillary Clinton. In the days before the U.S. presidential election, I've been watching some of the old Helen Mirren Prime Suspects, and it's striking how similar the sexism she faced in Britain in the 1990s -- as she rose through the ranks as a detective chief inspector and detective superintendent -- is to what Clinton's experiencing as she fights to become the first female president.

Tennison had to supervise and be supervised by men who subtly and overtly weren't comfortable working with a smart, competent, pushy, ambitious high-ranking woman.

I sympathize with her and admire her tenacity, yet, as with Clinton, am exasperated by some of the things she does. In Clinton's case that means everything from her "basket of deplorables" line to those email problems you may have heard something about. In Tennison's it can be her refusal to explore a line of inquiry in a homicide because she doesn't want to consider that she might have put someone away for a crime he didn't commit and her subsequent behavior when she's taken off the case (even if she ends up saving a life in the process).
Hillary Clinton as herself

Like Tennison, Clinton isn't just a victim of sexism. Yes, that plays a role, but she also a flawed individual who makes mistakes that hurt her. Would she make the same choices, and would her mistakes have quite same force if she were one of the boys? Would things be different if both women had sunnier dispositions and were more "feminine"? In Jane's fictional world, those questions make for great drama. In Hillary's real world, they scare the crap out of me because they could put Donald Trump in the White House (though that seems increasingly unlikely).

In the Prime Suspect where it looks like she might have put the wrong man behind bars, Jane becomes the subject of an internal affairs investigation courtesy of her nemesis Thorndike (Stephen Boxer), who even visits the man she's seeing, a psychologist, to try to get dirt on her. After Jane's reputation has been restored, she dances with Thorndike at an official function and lets him know she's on to him. It ends with a drink being tossed in someone's face in response to a sexist comment.

When Hillary wins the election on Tuesday -- and I'm thinking of it more as a when than an if -- how I would love to see her do some drink tossing!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Quirks of Search

Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, Lynn Hawley and Amy Warren in Richard Nelson's What Did You Expect?

Here's an interesting discovery I made the other day — at least it's interesting if you enjoy searching for things on the internet and uncovering tricks to find what you're looking for.

I wanted to see all the articles The New York Times had written about Richard Nelson's trilogy The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, so I began by using the Times site to search for "Richard Nelson" for the past 12 months, putting his name in quotes so that I wouldn't get results in which a "Richard" and a "Nelson" weren't next to each other. (They're both common names, and I didn't want any reviews of, say, Judd Nelson in a production of Richard III.)

But the only two articles relating to Richard Nelson the playwright that came up were a review of the first play in the series, Hungry, and a story about the Public Theater's 2016-17 season that mentioned the other two plays, What Did You Expect? and Women of a Certain Age. That was odd, because by this time What Did You Expect? had opened and the review should have shown up.

So I tried searching for "Richard," "Nelson" and "Gabriels" separately, no quotes involved, and this time the What Did You Expect? review came up. When I read it, I understood why. In critic Ben Brantley's first mention of Nelson's full name he writes, "the title clan of Richard Nelson's The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family has returned..." The apostrophe "s" is the problem. If you search for "Richard Nelson" (in quotes), the search engine will not give you any "Richard Nelson's."

At other points in the review the author-director is referred to by his last name, which is why the article came up when "Richard" and "Nelson" were used separately in the second search.

Still, if I hadn't known something was missing I wouldn't have done the second search, and I would have missed it. If you're searching the site for research — how many times did The New York Times mention this person or that company? — you have to look out for these quirks to get an accurate measure. One solution: Search the Times site via Google. In this case you would use the terms: "richard nelson" You will get the complete results — whether the name is attached to an apostrophe "s" or not — without having to sift through lots of useless ones.

Friday, June 17, 2016

More Morse as Endeavour and Lewis Return

Shaun Evans and Roger Allam in Endeavour

I'm always excited for the return of PBS's Oxford-set Morse spinoffs, Endeavour and Inspector Lewis, which make up this summer's Masterpiece Mystery! season beginning June 19. Kevin Whately will be saying goodbye to Robbie Lewis, a character he first played in 1987, when Lewis was a sergeant to John Thaw's Inspector Morse. But Shaun Evans, Roger Allam and the cast of Endeavour is already filming the series's fourth installment, set in 1960s Oxford, when Morse was just detective constable.

Small confession: I've already watched and enjoyed all of season three, and it's quite a bit quirkier than previous seasons. Here's what to expect...

1) The show owes a debt to Hollywood. Each of the four self-contained 90-minute episodes ("Ride," "Arcadia," "Prey" and "Coda" ), all written by Russell Lewis, references a classic Hollywood film: The Great Gatsby, The Graduate, Jaws and Dog Day Afternoon.

2) Not all of the regular cast members will last through all four episodes. To avoid spoilers, the less said about this the better.

3) There's a new girl on the force. Add to a show that already has characters named Thursday, Bright and Strange, WPC Shirley Trewlove. Played by Dakota Blue Richards, she shows up in the second episode.

4) The colorscape is getting brighter. And warmer. As the series movies into 1967, the sets and costumes are becoming a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows and oranges. Also, previous seasons were filmed in fall or winter; this one was shot in the summer, so things are decidedly greener.

5) But the detectives still have their dark colors. That's literally and figuratively. Season two ended with Endeavour Morse (Evans) arrested for murder and his commanding officer, DI Fred Thursday (Allam), fighting for this life after being shot, so they're still carting around plenty of baggage — and still wearing those oppressive suits. 

Fortunately, they're also still living in an era when lunch in a pub could be accompanied by cigarettes and afternoon beers...

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Real-Life Missing

The May 16 episode of Disappeared is one that I can't let go of. It's the most baffling missing-persons case the Investigation Discovery series has profiled all season.

Often the subjects of Disappeared episodes display unusual or erratic behavior in the days before they go missing or are suffering from depression. Other times it seems likely that a present or former partner is involved.

But none of those appear to be case with 60-year-old David Riemens, who went missing on Aug. 8, 2012, from Watertown, Tenn. He was an affable, talented stone mason who lived in a tree house on the farm of two longtime friends, Donny and Laura Nuessle. He was well liked and well known in the small rural community, and though his lifestyle sounds eccentric, on the episode, called "No Stone Unturned," his friends and family describe him as free spirited but not reckless.

He disappeared the day he was due to drive from Tennessee to Michigan to visit his siblings. According to the show, David went into town that morning to see some friends and run errands before he left. Donny saw him at the farm before noon when he returned to pick up his sketch pad. Donny assumed David was trying to meet with a contractor or a homeowner somewhere in the surrounding area to line up some work for when he got back.

Apparently, David had been trying to get work at a site somewhere in the area — an elderly man had given him bricks from an old barn, and it was while picking up these bricks that David saw a foundation being laid for a house on the property. The elderly man said the house was for his daughter and she was interested in stonework for the exterior. David told friends that when he asked the men laying the foundation how he would get in touch with the contractor, they were very terse and unfriendly.

Donny Nuessle didn't know where this place was, but estimated that it was within an hour's drive from the farm based on how long David was gone on the two previous occasions. The last known sighting of David, according to the show, came later that day. Toni Tatu, a local who knew him, saw him in the parking lot of a Dollar General after 1pm and briefly talked to him.

After that, he appears to vanish. The law enforcement officer interviewed on the show said surveillance video from Dollar General shows he never went into the store.

And police can't pursue inquiries through customary 21st-century technology because David lived largely off the grid. Since he didn't have a cellphone, police can't trace where it pinged after he was last seen, and they can't see who texted or called him just before his disappeared. He didn't have email, so they can't see who he was corresponding with. In fact, a large section of Disappeared focused on attempts by police and David's friends and family to try to identify the construction site David had visited.

Armchair detective that I am, I can't help wondering if they're looking in the best direction. Here's why. 

1) He went missing the day he was supposed to leave town

While not entirely ruling out the theory that David was killed because the construction workers felt threatened by him or he saw something he wasn't supposed to when he visited the site, I wonder if it's just a coincidence that he went missing the day he was supposed to leave for vacation. If you hold a grudge against someone, the perfect time to kill him would be just before he's due to leave town. It could be some time before anyone missed him, so who in town knew he was going away?

2) He could have gone to and come back from the construction site by the time he went missing

Also, in the time between when Donny and Toni saw him, it seems likely that David could have made the trip to the construction site, if it was indeed less than an hour away, and if not secured a job, then at least picked up more bricks, which were found in his truck. Surely he would have unloaded the bricks from his previous visits. They would really weigh down a vehicle and he wouldn't drive seven hours with them to Michigan. The only reason for them to be there would be if he'd just picked them up.

Those who believe his disappearance is tied to the construction site theorize that he met up with someone involved in the project in the parking lot, got in their car and they took him someplace where they killed him and got rid of his body. A police dog tracked the scent from inside David's car to outside the driver's side and around to what would be the passenger's side of a car in the space to the right. That's where the scent was lost, thereby suggesting he got in a car parked next to his. 

3) The scent-tracking results are open to interpretation

But Laura Nuessle said two interesting things about that: He hated to be a passenger in a car and he never locked his doors, and that's how the car was found. And why would he need someone to take him to the site when he'd already been there twice? Plus, if the Disappeared reenactment is to be believed (and I know it might not be), the sketch pad that David went back to the farm for was seen in his vehicle. Why wouldn't he bring that to the site?

Also, the spot where the dog lost David's scent (where the passenger's door of a car in the next space would be) would also be the area where the driver's side of a car parked two spaces over would be. Maybe David got out of his car to speak to the driver of a car parked two spaces over. If I'm parking in a lot that's not very crowded (and I don't know if that was the case; I'm just surmising) I might leave a space between my car and the next one, depending on the size of the spaces and the size of the car I'm driving.

4) His car might not have been at the Dollar General parking lot the whole time

Does anyone know for certain that David's car was at the Dollar General the whole time from around 1pm Aug. 8 until people realized he was missing and later found the car there? Maybe David planned to meet a person there, but not one connected to the construction site. Maybe it was someone he knew for some personal or business reason like borrowing or loaning money, borrowing a camera or some other item that he might need for his vacation. The person could have said they forgot to bring it, but if David follows them home, he'll get it for them. David does, and that's when he's killed. The person returns David's car to the parking lot before anyone realizes he's missing and either walks home (according to Google Earth there are a couple of Dollar General's in Watertown that look like they're within walking distance of homes), someone else picks him up or someone else is in on it and they drive back together. Perhaps the scent the dog smelled going from the driver's side of one car to the passenger side of another wasn't David's, but belonged to the most recent person in the car.

As I said, if you know someone's going on vacation the perfect time to kill them is right before they leave, because they won't be missed right away. And if you know David doesn't have a bank or credit card, you can assume he would have lots of cash with him even if you didn't seem him withdrawing money from the bank two days earlier.

If this is the correct scenario, one thing the killer probably didn't know is that David's bags were still at the farm, so the Nuessles thought something was off within hours when he didn't come back to the farm, but it didn't matter.  The case has remained quite cold.

5) Maybe it wasn't a crime

As I glanced at the Google Earth overview of the surrounding area, I noticed that behind one of the Dollar Generals, the territory looks very rural: lots of grass and trees and a waterway called Beech Log Creek. Could David be there? Could it have been an accident? Could he have decided to go for a walk and fell or had a heart attack? His disappearance really doesn't sound like a suicide, but could he have been hurting for money because the housing market in the area was still feeling the effects of 2008? Is that why he was so eager to have work lined up for when he returned. When someone disappears their personal life can get thoroughly picked apart in an attempt to find out what happened. I don't want to cause his friends and family any pain by suggesting he took his own life. But there are so few clues in his disappearance that it's hard to discount even "abducted by aliens" as a theory.

Here are links to two discussion threads with some interesting thoughts and theories:



Thursday, July 9, 2015

With a Little Bit of Luck

Jan Maxwell in Scenes from an Execution.

For someone's who quite the introvert, I've had an interesting couple of days Twitter-wise.

On Wednesday, Time Out New York ran my interview with multiple Tony nominee Jan Maxwell, who surprised me by revealing that she plans to retire from stage acting after her stint in Scenes from an Execution with PTP/NYC. By the time I logged on to Twitter to tweet the article around noon, it was already trending with more than 100 tweets.

Michael Urie hides from Patti LuPone in Shows for Days (not because he was texting).

Then, that night, I attended Shows for Days, a new play at Lincoln Center's Off Broadway space starring Patti LuPone and Michael Urie. The performance has now become famous/infamous because a woman sitting by the left side of the stage (maybe in the second row?) was using her smartphone during the beginning of the second act, and as the first scene came to an end, LuPone walked by her while she was delivering her final lines, took it out of her hands and exited the stage.

It was a beautiful moment, so perfectly timed it almost looked like it was part of the show. And it solved a problem without breaking the flow of the play. Despite the late hour when I finally got home, I knew I had to tweet this before I went to bed:
I have never gotten such a response to one of my tweets: 23 favorites and 18 retweets. The Guardian even used my tweet in their article.

Both instances were heavily reliant on the luck factor. And that's a big factor in social media success — one that even the so-called experts have no control over.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Generation of Ad-Blockers

This Adweek article suggests that election ad-spending could be headed from TV stations to social media because more millennials get their political news from Facebook instead of television.

There's just one problem with that cause-and-effect scenario, however. According to this 2014 piece in the Guardian, millennials are big consumers of free ad-blocking browser extensions: 41 percent of them block Internet ads.

Interesting to see that German courts have been siding with consumers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Differences in Age Differences

Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in Skylight.

It's interesting that the Gigi creative team was so concerned that people would be revolted by the age difference between Gaston and Gigi that they ineffectively made them nearly the same age. But the age difference between Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in Skylight in no way detracts from the power of their story. Didn't care for the former, but loved the latter.