TV Review: City Homicide

28 August 2007

Last night saw the debut of City Homicide, a heavily promoted new Channel 7 crime drama. According to an early review it’s a

story of urban crime and its detection … told from the multiple perspectives of the victims and the law, whose modus operandi here consists of old-school detective work; interviews with suspects, footwork, intuition and bravery (without a single lab-coat or high-tech computer read-out in sight).

I’m a sucker for some cops and robbers (or killers), so I didn’t have to think too hard about what I was going to watch last night. Alas, that meant a night of frustration.

For a police procedural, it wasn’t very big on procedure. At one point, Duncan is forced to draw his gun because he believes a suspect might be armed, but after the cuffs are snapped on there’s no attempt to search him. That’s a potentially fatal mistake. Later, that suspect offers to swap an important key for a rum and a smoke. It’s not clear why he’s still got the key on him in the interview room, or why the cops don’t just take it off him — he’s in custody, and should already have emptied his pockets. I guess the homicide squad doesn’t bother with pesky things like searching suspected murderers.

In fact, there’s nothing in City Homicide that gives you confidence in the detectives’ ability. Most of the legwork has already been done for them by a demented rogue officer from the police media unit. Jennifer is shown staring at a name on her computer screen for a full ten seconds before she realises that’s the name she’s been looking for — she must be a very slow reader. When Duncan notices a foul smell and blood leaking through the ceiling, he stands directly underneath it and prods it with a broom until the corpse bursts down on top of him.

The characters are not particularly inspired, and it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the script or the acting that’s at fault. There are some embarrassingly corny one-liners, and some painfully obvious characterisation devices: we know Sparkes is a bad cop from the old school because he’s first shown kicking the photocopier and swearing about “technology”. Daniel Macpherson’s inability to keep his smirk under control was ludicrous on The Bill, and it’s even more cartoonish on a supposedly “gritty” show. Even the better talent, like Aaron Pederson, comes over very flat. It’s hard to tell the detectives apart, except that the good guy can speak Italian and occasionally talks to his female colleagues.

With a bit of luck, these are just teething problems and City Homicide will improve as it gets into the swing of things. I’ll give it a few more episodes before I decide whether to find something more constructive to do with my time on Monday nights.

If you missed City Homicide last night, you can catch a repeat this weekend:
Friday 31st August, 11:30pm (Melbourne & Perth)
Saturday 1st September, 10:30pm (Adelaide)
Saturday 1st September, 10:45pm (Sydney & Brisbane)

Zine - The Small Print

Small Print is an occasional zine festival held in New Zealand, and The Small Print is a collaborative zine produced by and for participants in the 2003 event. I’m not sure how I ended up with a copy, but probably it arrived along with an order from the dear departed Moon Rocket Distro.

It’s an interesting one for a quick flick through, with a variety of different styles (prose, collage, comics, drawings) wedged together, showcasing the breadth and spontaneity of kiwi zinesters. There is a handy directory of contributors on the last spread, which allows the reader to track down more of the bits they liked. Ultimately, though, this zine is a memento for Small Print 2003 participants, and unless you get it (as I did) as a freebie, I wouldn’t bother with it.

Moira (ed), The Small Print, 1/4 size, 24 pages.

Zine - Notes to a further excuse

Di’s handsomely constructed zine, Notes to a further excuse…, is billed as being “about the experiences and adventures I had moving from Australia to England, where I now live”. However, the bulk of it is made up of extracts from a tour diary, with brief and samey accounts of bus trips and art galleries and gigs and backpackers’ hostels.

This was quite disappointing, mainly because of the missed opportunity. Di’s style is friendly and open, and the non-diary portions are very engaging. Reflecting on her departure, Di writes:

The thirty minutes I spent before actually boarding the plane were some of the loneliest I’ve ever felt. I was really on my own, and there wasn’t any turning back. By midnight, I was so exhausted and emotionally drained that it was actually kind of a relief to be sitting in my seat on the plane.

If the zine had continued in this way, readers would have had a very interesting insight into the pressures and excitements of leaving family and friends behind for an adventure on the other side of the world. Instead, it gives way to “At the Tate Britain I saw some Turner, some Freud, some Bacon and some Emin. It was pretty okay.” Readers by and large don’t need to know these little details, when there are far more interesting things going on.

The entry about the London tube bombings was much better. What does it feel like to be alone in a foreign city at the time of a major crisis?

It’s one thing to watch news coverage from the safety of your home in Australia, and another to be near it, but still watching from safety. You still weren’t there when it happened, so it doesn’t feel real.

This section, along with a similar one about the people staying with Di in a Bristol backpackers, show how interesting Notes to a further excuse… could have been. A series of vignettes focussing on key people and events would be much more engaging than a list of bus rides taken and tourist traps visited.

There is a lot that could have been explored more fully. I want to know more about Di’s meeting Adam than “I met [him] yesterday at the house show” in Southampton, and I want to know how their friendship grew over the next couple of months, to the point where they were willing to move in together.

A topic for another zine, perhaps?

Di, Notes to a Further Excuse…, 1/4 size, 40 pages.
Available from Di’s Etsy shop.

Zine - Elephant Mess 16 cover

A first glance at Elephant Mess #16: The Bug Issue made me think of Pearl Jam’s quirky Bugs. First, because the use of entomological diagrams to illustrate the zine reminds me of the Vitalogy booklet. Second, because they both present the thoughts of someone who notices the thousands of insects that live around and with us.

Eddie Vedder is gradually overwhelmed by paranoia about the dirty, invasive bugs he sees around him. Dan Murphy’s response is more complex: he sees them not as tiny monsters, but as “good bugs and bad bugs, too”, who “all have their purposes and reasons to live”; not so different from people. Elephant Mess #16 sets out his thoughts about bugs and slugs and similar creatures, as well as his own life.

The introduction discusses the symbiotic relationship between “bellyworms” and their human hosts, and there is a quick rundown of the contribution of insects to our lives at the fundamental level: “We need them to balance out our ecosystems, biospheres and microclimates.” But it is when Dan moves beyond providing this factual background that his zine becomes most interesting, when he uses insects to show us what he’s been thinking and feeling:

I have conversed with cockroaches that have gotten cozy on my couch. I didn’t ask them to leave, and I didn’t push them away or step on them because I enjoyed their company. They were all I had sometimes, the same way that all I have now are hobo spiders and spiders that look like miniature crabs that get all uppity when I come to[o] close.

The sadness in this passage pervades the whole zine. It’s about loneliness and shyness and crawling into private places to be alone with your thoughts. It’s about being “droopy inside, withering”, and “leav[ing] trails of tears”.

At the same time, there’s a sprinkling of happiness that keeps Elephant Mess #16 from getting bogged down in misery. It’s expressed in awe at the beauty of our tiny co-inhabitants, watching “lacewing lovers spread joy amongst the juniper berries”, and it’s expressed in admiration of the strength, organisation and achievements of such small beings. This is why Dan is fascinated by them: “bugs are my hope.”

The zine is let down a little by an incongruous poem of uncharacteristically poor quality, but another interruption more than compensates. We learn that Elephant Mess has been banned from prisons as contraband. The reason, given on the return-to-sender form? “BOOK”.

Daniel Murphy, Elephant Mess #16, roughly 1/4 size, 24 pages.
Available from Parcell Press, Sweet Pea, the author.

Here is an ad for Stolichnaya vodka:

And here is an ad for Smirnoff:

It’s clear that these spots have been developed in direct opposition to each other. There are strong similarities, like the growing red line signifying movement through space and time, and the narrative (through captions or voiceover) explaining the vodka’s story in terms of Russian history. But each has a distinctive, striking visual style, and each presents a different take on Russian history.

Stoli is the vodka of a strong and determined Russian people, while Smirnoff is the vodka of an individual who resists tyranny and succeeds against the odds. The Cold War continues, and the new front lines are in the alcohol marketing departments.

Zine - A New Tomorrow 23 - cover

You might want to pick up A New Tomorrow #23 for its vivid descriptions of city life and urban change; a quick, entertaining read. But it is much more than that.

Mike Kraus is a man with a mission statement, “in print and in daily life”, which calls for “explor[ation of] the personal life in hope of discovering universal truths”. A New Tomorrow #23‘s gentle, thoughtful outlook reflects this ambition.

It is a short zine with a clean layout and large, relaxing print. Mike’s views are put firmly but politely. Plenty of space is given over to photographs. The effect is to create room around the text for ideas to percolate.

Humboldt Park: my home. A forgotten part of the city of old Graystone apartments. The scene of the Division Street Riots in 1966. The empty storefronts stand humbly next to lots of overgrown grass and broken glass. People hang out on the sidewalk because their house is overcrowded.

A place to lose the world and be lost. …

Mike’s writing is imbued with a strong sense of place. The physical place is inseparable from the people it is home to. When Mike watches people, they don’t just do things, they do things on the front steps. They do things around the little figurine shop. They do things in the park.

The zine reflects on Mike’s move from Muskegon, Michigan, to Chicago, Illinois. Each city reflects his life there: “Nothing changes in Muskegon”, while “Chicago’s about big risks, hard work, opportunity…” Even when the focus is not directly on Chicago or Muskegon, “place” assumes significance. In an introspective piece reflecting on marriage, it is clear that Mike relates to the concept by giving it a location:

Do I want to get married? Is there a reason to get married other than to have kids? Do I want kids? The idea of moving to the suburbs, buying a car, schools, and all that comes with it doesn’t interest me.

This issue resonated strongly with me, because a pending interstate move has forced me to consider the relationship between place and happiness. A New Tomorrow #23 has been useful by prompting me to consider what I hope to achieve by moving, what are the traits of the new city that I hope I take on.

But I get the feeling this is more than mere coincidence. Mike’s thought-provoking observations and inviting prose mean this is the kind of zine that will strike a chord with almost everyone. If you approach A New Tomorrow #23 in the spirit of Mike’s mission statement — “clear intentions, a calm attitude, focus” — then the zine will well and truly repay you for the effort.

Mike Kraus, A New Tomorrow #23, February 2007, 1/2 size, 16 pages.
Available from HFI Publishing.

Mrs Noggle #1 cover

This little 24-hour perzine bears a MySpace-ish cover photo, which made me a little wary of its contents, but the inclusion of excerpts from Jolie’s diary spanning a six month period gives it unexpected depth. Mrs Noggle #1 is the story of Jolie’s reconciliation with her best friend Jamie Noggle, who she ultimately weds.

The journal-style format and a blur of family and friends’ names enhance the sense that the reader is looking through a narrow window into Jolie’s life. When we read that

SOMEONE called joaquin’s from jamie’s house. I could only assume it was kishtra trying to get ahold of joaquin. … both him [Joaquin] & joseph are still friends with him [Jamie]-BIG DEAL!

…it’s hard to keep up with who’s who, but that slight sense of confusion helps to highlight one of the zine’s strengths. If we know the web of relationships is complex, we can better appreciate Jolie’s difficult task in navigating them. Mrs Noggle #1 is at its strongest when it explores these fraught interconnections between friends, ex-boyfriends, romantic rivals and love interests in a small social circle.

There is also an entertaining Punch & Judy aspect to it. We cheer when the goodies (Jolie and Jamie) take another step towards each other, or when the baddies (chiefly Jamie’s ex, Kishtra) get their comeuppance. Sometimes, though, this tips over into triumphalism, such as in the final LiveJournal message to Tim: “you are the most pathetic person in the world (besides Kishtra of course)”.

Consquently, there is a nagging sense that this zine was published mainly for Kishtra’s benefit, to publicly remind her that Jamie married Jolie instead. At these points, it is difficult to maintain empathetic with Jolie, and it’s disappointing that the zine ended on such a sour note rather than with the joy of her marriage to Mr Noggle.

On the whole, though, this zine is an intriguing read. The couple’s initial reluctant estrangement is sad, Jamie’s persistence is charming, and Jolie’s nervous anticipation is exciting:

once i had sent that message to jamie on myspace i felt antsy & nervous about seeing him again. i didn’t know if it would be akward or if i would get upset about something and kick him out…i just didn’t know what was gonna happen!

A “summer whirlwind of happiness and good times” carries the reader along with Jolie and Jamie to their early wedding. We finish up hoping they can break free of the petty jealousies of their social group, and confident they can make a go of their new lives together as Mr and Mrs Noggle.

Jolie Noggle, Mrs Noggle #1, 1/4 size, 32 pages.
Available from Mrs Noggle Publishing.

Hilarious

14 August 2007

Yesterday I was walking through town on my way home from work. The roadworks around the corner of Wellington and William have disrupted the normal traffic pattern, so now a big swell of pedestrians builds up waiting to cross to the bus and train stations.

We were all standing there, eyes down, minds numb, waiting for the little green man, when someone started laughing at us. It was a kookaburra, perched atop the facade of the old Wellington building. It had been out in the world all day, snacking from the river, flying around as it pleased, while we were locked in our glass cages.

No wonder it was laughing.

Pushing pedals

8 August 2007

I bought a bicycle recently. I’ve been reading inspirational bike-related blogs and zines, the kind that have nothing much to say about cycling as a sport, and a great deal to say about cycling as a beautiful (and sometimes revolutionary) urban activity.

At the moment I’m quite sore, having taken my new machine out for a ride after work. I plotted an ambitious course and pushed myself to keep going. I’m not the fittest chap around, so at times it was hard going, but in the end I rode much further than I’d intended to and got home with a smile on my face.

Shorpy: Potomac 1935

5 August 2007

Potomac 1935

I can’t quite work out why I’m so interested by this photograph. It’s not great: the framing is fairly ordinary, and it seems very flat.

Perhaps it’s the look of concentration on the taxi driver’s face. It looks almost pained, and I can’t tell whether that’s because he’s been holding a pose for the photographer, or if it’s because he is waiting for a break in traffic that hasn’t arrived yet.