Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e05 – Death & Hysteria

Even for an episode dealing with institutionalized misogyny, which are often the heaviest “Miss Fisher’s,” Death & Hysteria is close to the heaviest because it’s about a group of women being persecuted and threatened with forced hysterectomies for… enjoying orgasms. Ysabelle Dean’s script never gives a full exposition dump—in fact, the foreshadowing to what’s going on is just an expression from Tammy Macintosh—but once it’s clear what’s actually going on, the whole episode changes gears quite a bit.

It starts with Essie Davis very suspicious of doctors Philip Quast and Damon Gameau, who have set up in Miriam Margolyes’s house and turned it into a sanitarium for women suffering “female hysteria.” Margolyes—Davis’s aunt and one of the show’s most successful recurring characters—is loaning it to them following Quast’s successful care of her son, who’s recently passed away. We met the son in an episode first season. It’s real sad, particularly since we find out about it three weeks or so after his death; we don’t get to see Davis’s mourning, for instance. Instead, she’s just suspicious Quast is taking advantage.

Quast’s immediately suspicious because he and sidekick Gameau don’t charge any fees—they only take donations from their patients, who are exclusively wealthy women. More, once one of the patients dies, it turns out they’re also really big into getting estates left to them. For various reasons, no one is being forthcoming in the investigation—Quast and Gameau immediately lawyer up (a perfectly icky Gareth Reeves)—and Nathan Page’s breaking in a new constable, Henry Hammersla, who screws up the investigative team.

Hammersla believes women are inferior to men and doesn’t think Page ought to be listening to Davis, much less telling him to work with Ashleigh Cummings (Hugo Johnston-Burt doesn’t appear this episode, off somewhere fishing and trying to figure out his life).

It’s a complicated mystery, with lots of unsettling historical details about the “medical” treatment of women in 1920s Australia, high society or not.

The best part of the episode is Margolyes and her mourning arc. The show may’ve skipped the straight drama but integrates its aftermath quite well here, also giving Travis McMahon some to do. Davis had McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe helping out Margoyles and there’s some wonderful stuff with McMahon and Margoyles.

There’s also a fantastic moment when Macintosh embarrasses Page for Davis’s benefit. The episode ends positive but it’s a heck of a trip getting there.

Frasier (1993) s02e04 – Flour Child

I missed the Christopher Lloyd credit during the opening titles—James Burrows directing is no surprise—so I got to watch the episode without any writerly expectations. It feels somewhat like a first season episode, back when the show was establishing its take on structure. Here, we get a big setup to the episode from Peri Gilpin (I was right, her being mad at him calling her a slut is forgotten) giving Kelsey Grammer his itinerary because he’s helpless. He’s got a card to sign for a sick guy, then out to dinner with dad John Mahoney and brother David Hyde Pierce.

It certainly seems like an awkward dinner out with Mahoney setup, but it turns out to be this hilarious scene with Grammer, Mahoney, and Hyde Pierce having to deliver cabbie Charlayne Woodard’s baby. Lots of great lines—and perfect performances from Woodard, Mahoney, and Hyde Pierce (Grammer staying out of the way because the actors on “Frasier” never try to upstage).

But the episode isn’t about the delivery, which apparently involves Hyde Pierce bravely running up the block to get hot water from a restaurant; it’s about Hyde Pierce wanting a baby of his own and carrying around a sack of flour to get the feel for it.

The episode does a beautiful job letting Hyde Pierce be bumblingly terrible with the “baby,” while also being entirely sympathetic. Mahoney thinks the whole thing’s stupid, which has some validity, but Hyde Pierce manages to so earnest. It’s still comedy though, with the teleplay the thing and Hyde Pierce’s almost touching performance just in service of the episode overall. There’s really good acting on “Frasier,” with a mix of styles, all working out.

Jane Leeves and Gilpin are support—Gilpin for a Grammer subplot involving the get well card and Leeves as additional laughs around the apartment. And Leeves gets them. She’s got a scene bantering with herself (voicing character Daphne arguing with her mother) and it’s absolutely fantastic.

It’s a rather good episode. Burrows keeps just the right pace.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e08 – It Had to Be You

So, funny thing about this season. The cops seem to have forgotten anyone hit Christina Applegate’s husband with a car and drove away. Like. When Diana Maria Riva is recapping her involvement with Applegate and Linda Cardellini for Natalie Morales? Doesn’t come up. It’s very strange.

Though, I guess makes sense given where the show’s gone.

Morales hears all about Cardellini just after Applegate has given the romance the go-ahead—ditto Cardellini giving Applegate and new James Marsden’s romance to go-ahead. Initially Applegate and Cardellini were arguing about it, but then Sam McCarthy showed up to ruin the scene and confront Applegate about old Marsden’s missing car.

Three main plots this episode—first, Morales’s mom (who doesn’t appear) takes a medical turn for the worse, leading to trouble in new paradise for Cardellini and Morales. Bummer there.

Then Applegate goes over to Marsden’s mom’s house to sell it and score a $15 million commission, but Applegate feels bad about the situation. It doesn’t help Marsden mom Frances Conroy appears to have another major organ failing every few seconds. It’s a very weird choice, meant to gin up sympathy for Conroy, but then there’s also how exasperating new Marsden finds her so she’s simultaneously not sympathetic. She’s also apparently a terrible old rich White lady….

If they do a third season, I imagine there will be some notes on her.

But we also discover some of Applegate’s hesitation over a physical romance with new Marsden is because of her mastectomy and reconstruction, which the show could handle a lot better. It gets foreshadowed with new Marsden telling her how he has scars all over his chest from childhood heart surgeries. It’s weird and forced, though not effective thanks to the actors.

But then there’s also this fake-out involving someone writing “I Know What You Did” on the garage, which ends up just being another, Sam McCarthy’s a teenage White boy who doesn’t actually have to be accountable just sullenly nod when Applegate tells him not to be a shithead.

It’s poorly done, but McCarthy’s an abscess on this series.

Oh, Jere Burns. He’s not Marsdens’ dad, he’s the racist, sexist local police chief we heard about earlier. Brandon Scott’s back working—in the police department where he didn’t work last season but whatever—and taking the tip calls on old Marsden’s disappearance. Basically he’s there for Burns to be low-key racist towards. It’s charming. Or something.

Also we hear about Cardellini’s mom for the first time in a while, with the ending implying she’s dead or something, and Cardellini didn’t know.

They maybe shouldn’t have saved all the character development for episode eight of ten. Though it did mean four great episodes of Morales and Cardellini….

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e04 – Blood & Money

“Miss Fisher’s,” as a rule, doesn’t do children in danger episodes. There’s been at least one other one, maybe another (but I don’t think really think so), but this episode opens with a kid buried in a shallow grave. It’s very intense right off.

Though it’s also got some post-war things to work through and they’re not as intense as usual so it sort of evens out.

Essie Davis’s client this episode–though Dr. Mac (Tammy Macintosh) is also going to have need of her)—is young Jarin Towney. He and his brother live on the very mean streets of Collingwood, where they hear of heroic Miss Fisher and her golden revolver. It’s pretty awesome to hear about the lore; Davis is a real-life (non-powered) superhero, she should have a fan club.

Towney’s aforementioned brother is missing; will Davis take the case and find him? Pretty soon, Macintosh is calling with some bad news—that dead boy in the shallow grave from the cold open? They find him near her hospital.

And it turns out there are three boys missing in total, so even if it’s not Towney’s brother, there’s still something very unpleasant going on.

The prime suspects are a nurse (Diana Glenn) and a severely disfigured war veteran (James O'Connell), who Davis and Ashleigh Cummings espy being up to strange shenanigans but maybe not illicit ones. Macintosh and her boss, Dan Spielman, are trying to get a donation to the hospital to fund a veteran rehabilitation program and the dead kids thing is really not helping. So Davis is doubly on the case.

And not just because she’s the Collingwood girl made (quite) good.

It’s a good mystery, with some excellent twists, and a decent enough finish. Besides the danger to the kids, there’s also the surprising unpleasantness of Hugo Johnstone-Burt’s subplot. He’s been cast out of home because of his conversion to Catholicism (for Cummings) and he’s keeping that situation secret from her. It’s the darkest Johnstone-Burt’s ever had to go and it’s rather affecting.

No drama for Nathan Page and Davis this episode, just the comfortable flirting—though there is a touch of some significant, which Cummings interrupts. It’s a good episode; Towney and Davis are excellent together.

When you think about it, it’s kind of a surprise she hasn’t assembled The Esplanade Peculiars yet. She does live at 221B, after all.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, William Friedkin)

If you’ve ever started watching To Live and Die in L.A. and turned it off because it’s terrible or just heard of it and thought you should see it, let me say… there’s no reason to see it. Or sit through it. Not even morbid curiosity. Or unless you want to see John Pankow’s butt. Director Friedkin does seem to be trying to start a macho male nudity thing with L.A.—including… umm… Little William L. Petersen, but he also does some homophobia in other parts. Not anti-lesbian though. Friedkin’s pro-objectification there.

Also… some vague racism. By some I mean every time someone who isn’t White is around. But all of it—even the dingus—is C-level L.A. shenanigans. They leave far less impression, for example, than the incredible stupidity of Secret Service agents Petersen and Pankow. Though at one point Pankow identifies himself as a Treasury Agent. L.A.’s based on a novel—by co-screenwriter Gerald Petievich—and for some reason I’d assume Petievich would’ve at least looked up the difference. Not Friedkin (the other screenwriter). Friedkin doesn’t even seem aware real guns weigh more than the rubber guns his actors strut around with.

To Live and Die in L.A., when you toss aside whatever is going on with bad guy counterfeiter Willem Dafoe, is about how adrenalin junkie, dirty Secret Service agent Petersen corrupts straight-edge Pankow, teaching him how to blackmail, exploit, and rape comely ex-cons (Darlanne Fluegel gets all the sympathy for being in this one), strut around in tight jeans (though Pankow doesn’t go with two to three inch lifts like Petersen) and shirts unbuttoned to two above the navel, and… I don’t know, act tough or something.

The scary part of L.A. isn’t the idiotic, toxic masculinity is good, actually, sentiment—Friedkin must’ve read some amazing male empowerment books in the eighties—but the idea it’s an accurate representation of the Secret Service. Though, wait, didn’t they get busted for something stupid and… oh. Yeah.

Okay, so it’s probably legit.

Otherwise the movie would be famous for the agency suing them for how they were portrayed. Because they’re idiots. Like, even if you’ve only watched “CHiPs,” you have a better idea of how to run an investigation than this group of dimwits.

The movie starts with a suicide bomber going after Reagan. The stupidest suicide bomber in the world, who comes up with a rappelling thing when he has enough explosive to just take out the hotel or whatever. Once the bomber fails—in an Islamophobic portrayal out of a GOP campaign ad—we get the Secret Service guys getting hammered and Petersen showing off his base jumping.

Every man wants to be a macho, macho man… you know what, L.A. set to Village People instead of Wang Chung (yes, really, it’s got a Wang Chung “score” and, no, it’s not good). But then Petersen’s partner, Michael Greene, three days from retirement, goes off to the middle of nowhere to investigate a counterfeiter who turns out to be Dafoe. Dafoe gets the drop on him because Greene’s an idiot too and so Petersen swears vengeance.

The best performance in the film is probably… Dafoe? Of the leads, anyway. Petersen and Pankow are risible, like they’re doing a spoof of themselves and don’t know it. Dean Stockwell’s kind of okay but then not, which is too bad because he starts better than he finishes. Fluegel’s not good, just sympathetic because she’s so exploited. Robert Downey’s terrible in a stunt cameo. John Turturro… I mean, you can tell he might be good someday but certainly not here. Debra Feuer, despite having the most potentially interesting story, isn’t any good as Dafoe’s muse.

Some of the Robby Müller photography is good. Some of it is not. They go handheld a lot, which would be a questionable choice if there weren’t so many just plain terrible choices Müller and Friedkin make. M. Scott Smith’s editing… is not bad. It’s not good, but it certainly seems like it’d be bad given Friedkin’s vibe here. It’s not. It’s tolerable. So much in L.A. is intolerable—like Lilly Kilvert’s production design and Linda M. Bass’s costumes—the tolerable parts shine.

To Live and Die in L.A. is an excruciatingly bad two hours. It’s hilariously pretentious and full of itself, but it’s got no laugh value; the joke is on whoever’s watching it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, based on the novel by Petievich; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by M. Scott Smith; music by Wang Chung; production designer, Lilly Kilvert; costume designer, Linda M. Bass; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Petersen (Chance), Willem Dafoe (Eric Masters), John Pankow (John Vukovich), Darlanne Fluegel (Ruth Lanier), John Turturro (Carl Cody), Dean Stockwell (Bob Grimes), Debra Feuer (Bianca Torres), Steve James (Jeff Rice), Robert Downey Sr. (Thomas Bateman), Christopher Allport (Max Waxman), and Michael Greene (Jim Hart).


Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e03 – Murder & Mozzarella

So I thought this episode was one of those pre-1980s Mafia stories where they never referred to the Mafia by name because they call it the Camorra here but the Camorra is actually a different Italian criminal organization. The more you know.

Miss Fisher (Essie Davis) and Inspector Jack (Nathan Page)—or should I say, Inspector Johnny—versus the mob was not an episode of “Miss Fisher’s” I was expecting. But I also wasn’t expecting Page to have another chaste love interest… you get the impression he spends most nights drinking with Davis.

But no. He’s off at an Italian restaurant making eyes at comely widow Louisa Mignone, who’s making just as many eyes back. We finally get to see Davis jealous. And Page reveling in it; well, at least as much as Page would revel in it. Until things get serious with Mignone, whose restaurant is part of a feud.

Mignone’s father-in-law Vince D'Amico is both chef and mob boss and he says the other Italian restaurant has been stealing their recipes. Given the other restaurant’s chef, Annette Serene, is super-mean, it seems possible. In fact, D’Amico and his family are sure Serene’s family had D’Amico’s son (and Mignone’s husband) killed. Because they take cooking very seriously.

There’s also kids Danielle Horvat and Paul Pantano—then Robert Mammone, who’s Horvat’s father and Serene’s son-in-law—he’s also a widower—plus enforcer Alex Andreas.

It’s a very full episode, which director Peter Andrikidis maneuvers quite well. Especially since there’s also the big subplot about Ashleigh Cummings finally convincing Hugo Johnstone-Burt to convert to Catholicism and it turns out he’s all for it once he discovers Cummings has to do whatever he says because he’s the husband. Cummings, on the other hand, thinks maybe the Church has got that one wrong.

Really good performance this episode from Page—the closest he’s had to a showcase maybe ever—and the finale’s excellent.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e07 – The Return

It’s a team episode—or more of one—with Nick Kroll returning from the first season. Kroll was a posh New York vampire who was in love with one of Matt Berry’s hats. Unfortunately, that hat was cursed and Kroll’s having some very bad luck. He’s living in a sewer with one rapping sidekick Mike Dara and another sewer-dwelling vampire sidekick (Christine Ebadi, in some truly icky makeup).

Kroll guilts Berry and Natasia Demetriou—following a hilarious talk about their evening out at the terrible “talkes”—into inviting him over. He’s so anxious to get out of the sewer, he beats them home, with Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén playing reluctant hosts.

There’s some great banter—plus Novak’s harsh assessment of why Guillén’s still a familiar and not a vampire (he’s like the last donut left, everyone’s sure there’s something wrong with it)—before they end up inviting Kroll and company (of course he brought the entourage) to stay the night.

Or day. Whatever.

Unfortunately, Ebadi really wants to eat Guillén and since she’s a hardier vampire than most, she’s not scared to lurk around during the day. They get into a big argument and Guillén’s all of a sudden got to worry about Novak finding out about the whole “vampire slayer” thing.

Meanwhile, Mark Proksch has an amazing subplot about his online trolling activities.

Writer-director-show creator-source movie co-creator Jemaine Clement has a great time with the episode; it feels like he wanted to give Proksch a good solo adventure—the show’s really exploring the energy vampire mythos—while taking advantage of guest star Kroll’s antagonistic chemistry with the rest of the cast. And it moves Guillén’s vampire slayer subplot forward for the first time in quite a few episodes.

It’s kind of overshadowed by the last episode Jackie Daytona peak, but it’s still fantastic.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e07 – If Only You Knew

Wow, more of the, no, really, you like Christina Applegate and Sam McCarthy as a mother-son comedic pair. He’s quietly sullen and she’s loudly obscene. Please laugh.

McCarthy is a leech on this season, frankly. Thanks to Natalie Morales and new James Marsden, “Dead to Me” has a new lease on life—is that a no pun intended type statement—and the season one leftovers, for the most part, are still dragging it down in the seventh episode of season two.

Applegate and McCarthy generically and insincerely bond while taking data for her stop sign proposal.

Anyway. One of the main plots of the episode involve Applegate telling Cardellini to break up with Morales, even though Cardellini and Morales are in capital L love after only a few days together.

And, why wouldn’t they be, especially since there’s a “twist” in the identity of Morales’s ex-girlfriend, still-roommate, who has a somewhat amusing awkwardness showdown with Cardellini.

The other main plot has Applegate and Cardellini volunteering to organize a vigil for still missing old Marsden as a favor to overwhelmed new Marsden.

At the vigil, we get to meet Marsdens’ mom, Frances Conroy, who’s played as a tragic figure. Also there’s no dad, which it seemed like there wasn’t, but then new Marsden kept referring to parents plural… and Jere Burns threatens Cardellini at the vigil so I was thinking Burns was the dad….

But it’s never cleared up here. Because we’ve got to get to Keong Sim making an unexpectedly welcome return (Sim was never bad last season, just badly used) to say some words at the vigil before they kick off a slideshow, which McCarthy happens to see because he likes new Marsden so much but doesn’t want to admit liking a non-toxic male, and recognizes the missing Marsden’s car.

Plus Applegate and new Marsden make out, which is both creepy and unfair (heartbroken over Morales, Cardellini peeps their romantic beach make-out).

The episode also introduces “WWJD”—as in “What Would Jen Do” or “What Would Judy Do” because it took them seventeen episodes to realize their characters have the same first letter in their first names.

Doing a Jen (Applegate) is getting shit-faced no matter what the time of day. Doing a Judy (Cardellini) is being a good person no matter what the situation.

The show would be a lot more fun if they’d classified those tropes sooner.

Also Jennifer Getzinger’s direction is a step down from the season two usual. Not as bad as first season, but still incapable of finding a good reaction shot.

Vampira and Me (2012, Ray Greene)

For its protracted 106 minute runtime, Vampira and Me is a combination of tragic, frustrating, annoying, and enthralling. The problem with the whole project is writer, producer, editor, director, and narrator Greene. Well, okay, the problem with any project about Vampira (Maila Nurmi) is the lack of extant footage of her television show, “The Vampira Show,” which ran in the mid-fifties. Nurmi was an immediate hit—the first glamour ghoul—but broadcasts were live and no recordings were made. Watching Me, there’s just enough remaining footage to show Nurmi as an excellent early television comedian, who kept up and outpaced her costars, and it’s an exceptional bummer the footage just isn’t here.

Much of Vampira and Me is an at least hour-long interview Nurmi recorded with Greene when he was working on another project. Greene, as narrator, says Me is going to be all about how Nurmi isn’t “just” Vampira, so the Vampira in the title is a little weird… ditto the Me, actually, because Greene barely has any anecdotes about his friendship with Nurmi. Except one where he emphases her emotional problems. It’s a weird choice. But Vampira and Me is full of weird choices, like Greene using a bunch of unrelated but contemporary footage because none exists of Nurmi. So you’re watching some commercial from the fifties and supposed to pretend it’s Nurmi or something. Plus he then goes on to add sound effects to actual recordings of Nurmi monologuing. And there are sound effects all the time.

It’s annoying. Like I said, frustrating, tragic, enthralling, annoying.

Nurmi herself—based on the filmed interview material—is a natural raconteur. She knew Orson Welles back in the day and you can imagine they’d have done great banter if given the opportunity. She was also good friends with James Dean during his meteoric rise, which gets a lot of coverage in the film but very little insight. Nurmi was into New Age woo and Greene’s not a good enough interviewer to get through that murky pool to actual insight. The biggest bummer of the film itself is the interview, which a better filmmaker could’ve incorporated into a far better project. The lack of other interviewees is a big problem.

But then there’s Greene’s narrative construction. He jumps ahead to the sixties at one point, then pulls back to the fifties. The timeline wouldn’t be muddled if Greene just did a better job presenting it. He also doesn’t get anything out of the jump ahead and fall back. It also contributes greatly to the slog of the second half.

Then there’s Greene “killing off” his subject; at the beginning of the film, he implies this rare, exclusive interview is going to be the emphasis and everything else will serve to annotate it. Nope. Greene doesn’t cover a lot of Nurmi’s rougher days—she spent almost fifty years in abject poverty, screwed out of continuing popularity because of a dispute with the TV station (they wanted to syndicate with other Vampiras in local markets, she apparently wanted to be Vmapira in all of them—not clear because Greene didn’t think to ask, apparently). He’s got some line about how she went on to a somewhat happy ending at the end and then doesn’t show it or talk about it… she just dies and it’s funeral footage, which is weird.

Also weird is the clips of a dancing fifties girl who looks a lot like Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia Addams on “The Addams Family” TV show. Nurmi got her idea for the Vampira costume from the Addams Family cartoon strip. She was trying to get noticed by producers to do an Addams Family adaptation, not “The Vampira Show.” And given the Elvira vs. Vampira stuff, which barely gets covered—and Greene at one point makes it sound like Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) was a reluctant nemesis… you’d think he’d clarify. Nope.

But then it turns out Greene’s not a very honest documentarian.

He implies Nurmi’s “Vampira” show was up against “I Love Lucy” in the 1955 Emmy’s when Nurmi was actually nominated for a local Emmy. What makes that deception so galling is the James Dean friendship, which was in contention for years because of a Hedda Hopper book and Nurmi had to fight to be believed. Documentation backs Nurmi up, but it took decades.

Greene’s got a great chance to look at fifties Hollywood and the ephemera of television–the first viral sensations—and he has a handful of good observations, they just don’t go anywhere. And they’re really early in the film.

It’s a testament to Nurmi as a storyteller and personality she’s able to surmount this wanting “homage” just in the single camera interview and a few surviving clips.

1/4

CREDITS

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Ray Greene; directors of photography, Larry Herbst, Sean Peacock, and Greene.


Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e02 – Murder & the Maiden

Season three’s Jack (Nathan Page) jealousy is a lot less morose than previously. He’s jealous for Essie Davis’s history with Royal Australian Air Force captain Rodger Corser but it takes a while before Page lets it hinder he and Davis’s working relationship. Even when Corser’s withholding evidence in a murder case—a woman’s body is found outside the fence and the RAAF’s official position is it can’t have anything to do with them.

The mystery is a very complicated one, involving White Russians and Red Russians and the local communists and Fisher agent Travis McMahon’s potential girlfriend, Kasia Kaczmarek, and a missing pilot. Turns out the missing pilot was knocking boots with not missing pilot Tom Hobbs and the rest of the base—Corser aside, apparently—suffered a mass wave of homophobia.

Meanwhile, Hugo Johnstone-Burt wants to set the date for the wedding with Ashleigh Cummings but he also doesn’t want her to keep her job, which isn’t cool with her.

Also this episode—for the first time, I think—Davis refers to Cummings as her assistant, not her companion, suggesting Cummings becoming a detective in her own right. Very cool.

Shame the year is 1929 and Black Tuesday is imminent.

Davis does an excellent job with the Corser subplot; it takes most of the episode for their full history to come out and even Page can’t fret about it once he hears the whole story. Corser’s… fine, though a little less compelling a Phryne fellow than usual. He’s a bland flyboy type, which makes sense since they knew each other during the war, but he hasn’t got any of the burning internal passion. Maybe because he’s a bit too much of a dick to Page in the RAAF vs. coppers peeing contest.

But it all works out, with a very well-executed final action sequence—Tony Tilse’s direction is quite good—as well as a lovely finish.

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