On Location

Lovers Point

I’m looking at the HBO series “Big Little Lies”. I’ve watched the first ten minutes and I haven’t decided whether to watch anymore. The series is set in Monterey and its first season garnered lots of awards (4 Golden Globes and 8 Emmys). A casting call for its second season is front page news in the Monterey Herald. In my miniscule viewing, the show opens at night and two homicide detectives are seen walking up to an elementary school, where a fundraiser has gone tragically wrong. The all-star cast is headlined by Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley, who play three women that get embroiled in a murder investigation.

Flashback and Witherspoon is seen driving her daughter to school, on the first day of school, for first-grade, across the Bixby Bridge. A jump-cut later she is involved in a near accident, just west of Lovers Point, three blocks from the school, which would put it in Pacific Grove. She trips, sprains her ankle and a voiceover says that maybe none of this would have happened, if she hadn’t fell.

Maybe it’s a private school? That would go a long way in explaining her cross-jurisdictional commute, but at this point I was confused, so I did a little digging. Supposedly, the principals all live in Carmel Highlands, which is a community that is south of Monterey and south of its more famous near namesake, Carmel-by-the-Sea and all of these places are well north of the Bixby Bridge. Unless you are also filming a car commercial, then this commute makes no sense.

As an aside, my brother Chris has sold a photograph of the bridge that was used in a review (HuffPo) of this show. Also, my Dad told me that in the ’50 he and Mom had looked at a lot in Carmel Highlands, before they eventually bought in Carmel Valley. Not that he would have seen any of his erstwhile neighbors homes featured in this show, because further research revealed that other than landmark Monterey area locations everything else was shot nearer to LA. 

Babylon Berlin

Cabaret Program Cover Art

A steam locomotive hurdles through the night only to be brought to a screeching halt by a burning tree fallen across the tracks and of course, there are those men with guns, who turnout to be Trotskyist train-jackers. This is the opening to the new Netflix German import, “Babylon Berlin”. Set in the spring of 1929, this period crime drama predates both the Great Crash and the rise of the Nazis. It shows the Weimar Republic at the height of the roaring twenties.  “Babylon” captures Germany’s dark glamour in a briefly exhilarating time between the wars. An era that has been mostly overlooked, considering what followed.

This is the biggest budget German language (subtitles volk) TV series ever made. If has been reviewed as “Cabaret” on cocaine. I think that crack is more apt. It’s not for the prudish, not that it is all that salacious, but because it is so earthy. One comparison has been drawn about women’s armpit hair. While other series like “Game of Thrones” or “Outlander” show depilated heroines, “Babylon” does not. Begging the question where those fantasy women find space to toilet. This comparison is used to emphasize this show’s realism over others, but don’t worry, because there is still just as much nudity in this show.

This is a crime drama and our protagonist is a PTSD suffering, self-medicating morphine addict. Otherwise, he seems like a standup guy, at least compared to the soup that he is swimming in, which includes sex, drugs, thugs, corrupt cops and those pesky Trotskyites. It is less a crime drama than an expose of Berlin.

I loved it! I must admit that I’m a sucker for stories about this time and place. I’ve read all of the Alan Furst Nazi era novels. Its attention to period detail enthralled me, like coin-operated electricity in the tenements. As of writing, I’m ¾ of way through the 16 episodes that dropped this month. I’ve been binging, but hey, it’s cold outside there baby. This is the show’s first two seasons.

The show is based upon author Volker Kutscher crime novels, of which he has written plenty. It has been well received in Europe and I would expect sequels to follow. It’s a thing now and with the Netflix US distribution deal, this only ensures its continued success in the future. 

Mindhunter

Mindhunter

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them. – Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s quote well encapsulates the new Netflix crime drama, Mindhunter. A police procedural that describes the genesis of the FBI’s serial killer unit. Set in 1977, I guess making it a period piece now, the show follows the travels of two FBI agents Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany). They’re running a dog and pony roadshow, trying to disseminate Bureau knowledge to local police departments. Occasionally, after their talks a reluctant officer will solicit their advice on a particularly disturbing local case.

In the crime drama genre this FBI unit’s story has been well told. From Clarice to the present, countless variations have been presented. Two things make this telling unique. First, it is an origin story. The show captures well the feel of the late seventies, particularly all of those annoyingly ineffective American cars. A Pinto crash scene is even included, albeit not a fiery rear-end one. Second, is the reliance on chatter over splatter, opening credits are played over the meticulous threading of a reel-to-reel tape recorder that’s used for interrogations. Except for the gratuitous initial scene the only gore shown is in the crime scene photos.

Groff as Ford brings a young naïve idealism to the team that seldom falters, even in the face of so much unspeakable evil. McCallany as Tench plays the grizzled old veteran. As an actor, he seems destined now to land any hardboiled detective role he may want. Together, they appear to have been selected to play good cop-bad cop from central casting. Later this boys club solidarity is violated with the introduction of Anna Torv, who plays a behavioral psychologist. She brings scientific rigor to what had been a do what feels good approach. 

As misogyny goes it doesn’t get much worse than depicted in this series, but it’s still on the spectrum. If you slide downward, you’ll find Harvey Weinstein, the groper-in-chief and their ilk are all there too. It is just a matter of degree, as is murder in the first. In the end, it all comes down to convictions.

Welcome to Saint Louis

Cheetah

Cheetah

I went to the Saint Louis Zoo today. It is close to home and is easy for me to visit. From today’s photo safari, I’ve chosen the above picture as the graphic for this post. Interestingly, there were two zoo keepers, both women, in the enclosure. One of them stood guard, while the other one was doing some digging. When I was viewing the cheetah exhibit, another visitor turned to me and expressed his amazement at how great this zoo is. He was even more amazed at the fact that zoo admission is free. I asked if he was from Saint Louis and not unexpectedly he said no. He came to town on business, his meeting ended early, his flight wasn’t until tomorrow, he had the afternoon off and so he went to the zoo. I saw him again later and he was even more excited. He told me that he had already seen three new to him species. I could have told him, you’re welcome, because as a Saint Louis County taxpayer I paid for it, but that would have been rude. We were both having a good time and since there were so few visitors, the animals seemed to also appreciate the extra company.

Another welcoming to Saint Louis is featured in this year’s Budweiser Super Bowl spot, “Born the Hard Way”. This ad tells the Anheuser-Busch origin story. It details Adolphus Busch’s journey from Germany to Saint Louis and culminates in his meeting with cofounder Eberhard Anheuser, over a beer. In this commercial Busch’s immigration is punctuated with travails. Crossing the Atlantic he is thrown from his bunk and requires stitches. In NYC he is met with the angry epithets, “You’re not wanted here” and “Go back home.” Later the riverboat that was bringing him to Saint Louis catches fire and he is forced to abandon ship. This whole story is told in flashback, as we learn later. This casts new light on the ad’s opening line that to any new immigrant would appear threatening, “You don’t look like you’re from around here.” Later, we learn that it was spoken as an introduction by Anheuser to Busch.

AB InBev is the largest brewer in the world and it has been a perennial Super Bowl sponsor. Most of their spots have been of the cute and cuddly sort, think Clydesdales, dogs and frogs. In our current highly charged environment about immigration and the controversy over Trump’s recent immigrant ban, this commercial seems pointedly political, no matter what the brewer says. In this way it feels reminiscent of Chrysler’s 2012 Clint Eastwood Super Bowl halftime spot, “Halftime in America”. I can only hope that “Born the Hard Way” is just as effective. Oh and Budweiser, welcome back to Saint Louis.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Our replacement 49″ flat-screen TV set arrived today. I got the FedEx guy to help me unbox it. I then set it up and lo and behold it worked. Thanks Dan and Dave, better late then never! Currently, it is sitting right in front of the couch on the coffee table, where it is too big and too close. I’m shopping online now for a console table that will go behind the other couch. We can put the new TV on top of it, where it will be out-of-the-way when we have company, but still quite viewable. I am now researching methods for hooking this TV up to the Internet and Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO.

I bicycled both today and yesterday. Even though the weather rose into the fifties, what with the wind, it didn’t feel that warm. Today’s ride mileage gives me a century for the month of January. I also checked my Fitbit and lo and behold I got another hundred for the month there too. This is certainly not my best start for a new year, but it is my best start for the last few years.

After today, I am rather pleased with myself. Although, it took a month, I was able to convince Newegg to do right by me. As I said before, my Mother would have been proud with me over that. She was always a fighter. I’m feeling a little tired tonight and a wee bit sore too, but it’s a good kind of sore. A soreness that I worked hard at to obtain.

Red Cactus Flower

Red Cactus Flower at the Huntington

Red Cactus Flower at the Huntington

It has been a decidedly rainy and rather dreary Martin Luther King Day here. There was not much in the way of observance of this holiday by us. I did toy with the idea of going to see the movie, Hidden Figures, but I couldn’t muster the energy to actually get out to watch it. It is a historical drama set during the sixties space race period. It dwells upon three black women that were NASA’s ‘computers’ at the time. They had an IBM down the hall, but the astronauts trusted these women’s figures more than the machine’s. I’ll see it eventually.

Anne has been busy all weekend working on her latest quilt creation. She got her new iron to work today and her project really seems to be coming together nicely. Sorry, but I’m sworn to secrecy on it. So, I can’t talk any further about it.

Our toilet has all but stopped dripping and I am cautiously optimistic that it will soon fix itself. Nothing like a little lime in your water to gum things up. The front yard is still a mess and today’s rain isn’t really helping that much, but as soon as I can I’ll be seeding and sodding. It should look better soon enough.  

We watched Victoria together last night. This PBS (nee BBC) TV series has all the makings of the next Downton Abby. On the plus side, it has upped its game on the British aristocracy angle. You can’t get much more uppity than the queen. On the downside though, this is a historical drama that is primarily based in fact, which means all those lovely plot twists are already revealed. All you have to do is google them. At future Victoria watching parties, this could lead to some of the most delightful spoilers being revealed by the more well-informed, if not well-behaved members of the viewing public. Sounds positively wicked!