Bucharest PD!

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Title: Comrade Detective

Rating: 4 Stars

The premise is almost irresistible. There is a long lost Romanian detective series from the 1980s produced to glorify the Romanian state. An old tape of the series is found and it’s such a masterpiece that great care is taken to restore it and dub it in English so that we can all enjoy it.

It works on many levels. First of all, for those of us who were around in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s a great spoof of detective shows from that time. It was a golden era of hard nosed detective shows, including Starsky and Hutch, Baretta, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, and Mannix. These were all hard men that were somehow irresistible to the ladies.

The lead detective, Gregor Anghel, with his leather jacket, shaggy unkempt hair, and general glower perfectly matches the bill. He actually reminded me of Joe Don Baker playing Mitchell in the great MST3K movie. Women can’t seem to keep themselves from falling for him.

Just like in those old television series, there is rampant violence. Suspects are beaten, guns are fired, and the cops just bust in where ever they want to, hilariously shouting “Bucharest PD!”.

Above and  beyond that is the overt propaganda. Being dedicated communists, they hold capitalism, and specifically, United States, in contempt. They visit the US embassy, where grossly fat men sit around eating mounds of hamburgers. The ambassador is an oversexed Texan woman. The Monopoly game is seen as a capitalist tool to subvert communists. Jordache jeans drive susceptible Romanians mad with desire. The suspect (who murdered Anghel’s partner) goes around wearing a Reagan mask.

This is contrasted with the perfection of Romania. They extol the virtues of Romanian vehicles, the Romanian healthcare system, and Romanian cops. They do this despite the fact that Romanian cars are clearly tiny little boxes, the healthcare system has beat up beds and soiled pillows, and the actual Romanian police force kind of resembles Keystone cops.

On the one hand, you laugh at the absurdity of it all. But then you start to think a little about the affect that the Cold War propaganda had on the Western culture. The obvious example here is Red Dawn. That’s scarcely the only one. Think of the Rambo movies (after First Blood). Think of pretty much any 1970s / 1980s James Bond film. How many positive examples can you come up with where the people of the Soviet Union were presented fairly? The propaganda here is broad and is therefore amusing, but there is a message here about how culture makes a distinction between Us and Them, and then makes sure that the Them is represented as unflattering as possible.

In one episode, there is even a Trump reference that’s pretty awesome.  Clearly, Trump, with his accusations of fake news and his pretty absolute disregard for the truth (with the support of various other media outlets) understands the value of propaganda, and as is done here, he lays it on with the subtlety of a meat cleaver.

The last episode, trying to tie up loose ends, is kind of a slog and the satire becomes a little too obvious as it goes along, but all in all, I’d highly recommend this series. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.

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Justice, Shmustice

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Title: Making a Murderer

Rating: 5 Stars

Wow. I just spent the past couple of days powering through this. It’s a 10 part mini-series about what appears to be a tragic miscarriage of justice. Steve Avery just might be the hardest luck case of all time.

The Avery’s are clearly the white trash of the area. They’re not all that smart and certainly not educated.

Steve has some run-ins with the law and apparently pisses off people connected to the police force. A leading citizen of the town is sexually assaulted. It appears to be the case that one of the officers artificially created a police sketch based upon Steve’s profile and got the victim to agree to that description. They then ran the photo array with Steve’s mugshot, which naturally enough the victim picked out. They then put Steven in a police line-up, and again, naturally enough, the victim picked him out. That’s all she wrote. He’s convicted and off to jail

Ten years into the sentence, the real rapist is caught in another county. The arresting detective calls another officer in that county to let him know that they might have the wrong guy. Absolutely nothing happens. Several years after that, an innocence project gets involved and with improved DNA technology, they conduct a test that not only proves that Steven is not the rapist, but the man that the detective from a different county had called about actually was the rapist.

Amidst much hoopla, Steve is freed. After about two years of freedom, he files a civil suit against the county. His lawyers begin to depose the officers involved, and it does not look good for the county. Three weeks after that, a woman goes missing. Her car ends up in Steve’s junkyard.

A couple of months after that, there is a shocking press conference where the prosecutor announces that Steve’s nephew has confessed and has also implicated Steve. In the ensuing days, a key is found belonging to the victim’s car in Steve’s bedroom, her charred bones are found in a burn pit outside his house, the bullet with her DNA on it is found in his garage, and his blood is found in her car. That’s all she wrote.

But is it? Steve has no money, but he does have the large civil suit pending. The county agrees to a $400,000 settlement. He promptly hires the two best lawyers that he can.

And they discover:

  • Brendan’s confession is horribly coerced. He’s clearly eager to please and has limited intelligence. The big held back fact (that the victim was shot in the head) was fed to him by a detective. Brendan’s first lawyer is only interested in getting a confession so that he can work with the prosecutor to get Steve convicted. It’s shockingly obvious that the confession is stage managed.
  • The car key is found out the open in Steve’s bedroom after the room has been searched / videotaped seven or eight times. It’s found by one of the detectives that was depositioned in Steve’s lawsuit.
  • The bullet is found in the garage after the crime scene team has thoroughly gone over it. Again, the detective that was depositioned was in the garage at the time it was found.
  • From his earlier case, Steve’s blood samples were drawn. On video, that sample was retrieved. The evidence seal of the evidence container was broken. There appears to be an obvious hypodermic hole in the blood vial which clearly indicates that it was at least tampered with and strongly suggests that the blood was removed from it.

Obviously, being a compressed documentary of a situation that covers months and years, not everything is shown. There is an obvious slant. However, a very strong case of reasonable doubt is shown.

Shockingly enough, Steve is convicted. Although Brendan’s confession is knowingly wrong / obviously coerced, Brendan is convicted. As of this writing, both are still in jail. Steve will probably die in jail. Brendan will be in jail until his 50’s.

The larger point here isn’t so much the actual guilt of Steve or Brendan (although clearly it is to them). To me, the larger point is the absolutely asymmetric power relationship between the state and the defendant. If Steve did not have funds, he would have been convicted without a trace and we would have never known of it. How many poor people have been railroaded into a conviction? How many innocent people have knowingly plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit to get a lesser sentence just to avoid getting completely railroaded?

The fact that this happened in some small county in Wisconsin just makes it that much more obvious how stacked the judicial system is against those without means.

As one of the defense lawyers say, you can try never to commit a crime, but what can you do to prevent from being accused of a crime?

John Mulaney The Comeback Kid

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Title: The Comeback Kid

Rating: 2 Stars

This probably suffered from immediately following Jeselnik. Mulaney is a talented, competent comedian. In comparison to Jeselnik, he just seemed mundane and milquetoast.

I smiled and chuckled a couple of times. However, I didn’t get as much enjoyment as its reputation would have indicated.

Anthony Jeselnik Thoughts and Prayers

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Title: Thoughts and Prayers

Rating: 4 Stars

This is a one dark comedian with an offbeat, deadpan style. I was not sold in the first third or so, but I was hooked by the end. His jokes about gun control (this is to protect my five children) or abortion clinics (I closed down abortion clinics in every town I go into) were unexpected and amusing.

His last ten minutes, where he talks about why he tweets horrible things on the days of tragedies and how he feels about everyone offering their thoughts and prayers was amusing and trenchant.

All in all, an original meaningful special