Beginning in 2005 Tom Selleck (the star of Magnum PI in the 1980s and more recently a regular on Blue Bloods) has been lead actor, executive producer, and occasionally co-writer of eight made-for-television movies based on a series of mystery novels by Robert B Parker, who’s better known as the creator of the Boston private eye Spenser. Stone is a former Los Angeles cop whose drinking cost him his job and his wife, leading him to take a position as chief of police in a small town called Paradise on the Massachusetts coast, almost as far from Los Angeles as he could get. He’s still struggling with his drinking, but he’s good at what he does, and in his new job he earns the friendship of a lot of people while pissing off some of the local leaders for not doing what he’s told.
There’s enough of a continuing story here that the films are best watched in logical sequence, which means switching the first two films from their broadcast order.
Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006)
Saul Rubinek plays the town leader who persuades his colleagues to hire Selleck. His wife, played by Stephanie March (the stunning tall blond assistant district attorney on Law & Order: SVU) has her own designs on him and is very forthright about it. Selleck says, “Wow,” but he never takes her up on the offer, possibly because she’s married, possibly because he’s still pining for his ex (the two of them talk by phone almost every night) and possibly because he’s afraid of being hurt, and I don’t mean emotionally. She’s scary hot. He does over the course of the series get romantic with younger women, but mainly ones who seem more likely to show mercy to an older guy like us. Selleck is even older than I am, but that barely seems to slow him down.
(Yes, he’s also taller, slimmer, better looking, has not gone bald, his facial hair isn’t gray, and in general he looks more like a somewhat older Magnum PI than like the less-successful brother of Santa Claus.)
The police department includes an annoying middle-aged male cop, a woman he quickly learns to respect, and a naive young guy Selleck takes to calling “Suitcase” after the famous shortstop he slightly resembles. (Suitcase is played by Kohl Sudduth, a name that sounds like he should be an associate of Cthulhu.) Another recurring character is Stephen McHattie, the state’s head homicide investigator, who’s based in Boston.
In the course of the film Selleck takes a street-cop approach to a domestic dispute and helps McHattie solve the murder of Selleck’s predecessor. Unfortunately the climax is ridiculous, with Selleck putting himself pointlessly in danger, but the characters, setting, and overall story make up for that.
Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (2005)
This is more suspense than mystery, since we learn very early on who the bad guys are. Somehow Selleck intuits it as well, though he has no evidence to support his suspicions. Again he also has to deal with more mundane problems in town.
If you watched Frasier, you probably remember that in the final season of that series Niles (himself engaged to someone else) professed his love for Daphne just before her wedding. Daphne’s fiancé was played by Saul Rubinek, the sleazy politician who hired Selleck in Night Passage, so it’s interesting that Niles’s fiancée, Jane Adams, has a major role in this film. (Incidentally, while Adams often plays a rather mousy character, here she comes off as seriously sexy.)
Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006)
Selleck co-wrote this episode, and perhaps as a result it’s a bit better plotted than the previous two. Investigating the death of a teenage girl leads Selleck to a Boston mobster and a young nun, both of whom show up in later episodes as well. Meanwhile, his ex-wife, or at least her voice on the telephone, convinces Selleck to start seeing an ex-cop turned psychiatrist for help with his drinking.
Jesse Stone: Sea Change (2007)
Stone’s alcoholism is worsened by the news that his ex is sleeping with her boss, so he tries to get himself back on track by investigating a cold case, a bank robbery that ended in kidnapping and death. He soon turns up puzzling new evidence that suggests the crime wasn’t what it seemed to be. Meanwhile the city council wants him to stop risking bad publicity by investigating a rich yacht owner accused of molesting a young female guest.
Jesse Stone: Thin Ice (2009)
Selleck is hanging out with his friend Stephen McHattie on a stakeout in Boston when a gunman nearly succeeds in killing them both, and he breaks the law to solve the case and bring the bad guy to justice. Meanwhile, Camryn Mannheim has ridden by bus all the way from Albuquerque to look for her missing daughter, snatched from the hospital not long after birth because she got an anonymous letter saying. “Your child is loved,” with a Paradise postmark.
Jesse Stone: No Remorse (2010)
The city council has suspended Selleck without pay, not for his lawbreaking in the previous film (they’re not even aware of it) but mainly, one suspects, for cutting down the tree hiding the speed limit sign at the town’s lucrative speed trap.
Saul Rubinek’s wife, the one who propositioned Selleck when he first got into town, is now divorced and is a new woman, or a new actress anyway, but she’s still hot in every sense of the word and still wants to pork Selleck’s brains out, and he still says, “Wow.” He still declines, possibly because he’s dealing with the greatest mystery of his career: figuring out his new cell phone.
In addition, he’s been hired by his friend McHattie as a consultant on a case in Boston involving an apparent serial killer. Back in Paradise the severely understaffed police department is investigating an unusually violent series of convenience store robberies.
Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost (2011)
Selleck is no longer suspended because he’s been forced to take early (actually, not that early) retirement. But when the obnoxious young new chief won’t look into the drug-related death of a young woman Selleck knew, he bends the rules and eventually breaks the law again investigating on his own. He also drinks more while his dog looks on with obvious disapproval.
This is one of the weaker films of the series and even seems to be missing at least one scene, given that Selleck suddenly knows something without any explanation how he found it out. The ending and some things leading up to it struck me as dumb. The characters remain appealing, though.
Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt (2012)
When local leaders want a double murder solved they bring Selleck back out of retirement, which is a practical necessity because nobody is left in the police department. All is of course not as it seems. Well-written dialog helps make up for the plot holes. A hot woman for once turns Selleck down, bluntly telling him she’s too young for him. Then she goes out with him anyway. It’s good to be the co-writer.
The trailer for the first broadcast:
I got an email earlier today claiming to be from "firstname.lastname@example.org" and looking very plausible. It indicated that I had made a $150 watch purchase that I hadn't actually made, and provided what appeared to be links to the PayPal site, encouraging me to log in for additional details.
In fact, the links were not to PayPal at all, but to a site apparently in Poland. (I determined this simply by hovering my mouse pointer over the link and looking at the information my browser provided.) The obvious intent was to make me think someone had bought something and had it billed to me, so that I would panic and click on the links which would then ask for my PayPal login and password (which I don't have since I don't use PayPal), whereupon the bad guys really would start charging stuff to me.
People less cynical than I am could easily be taken in by this scam.
There's a lesson here: Be very skeptical of links in emails.
Back in 1997 a guy named John Silveira was working for Backwoods Home magazine when late in the production of one issue the editor asked him to come up with a joke or two to fill up a bit of blank space on a page of classified ads. Silveira asked if he might just place a couple of ads, and the editor said fine.
One was on the level, a personals ad seeking a woman. He got very few responses, one of them from a guy. But the other ad was eye-catching enough to be featured on Jay Leno’s “Headlines” segment and be propagated all over the web. Letters in response are still coming to his post office box. He’d originally written the ad to serve as the opening of a science fiction novel he’d tried to write years ago and never finished, reading
WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322, Oakview, CA 93022. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
In the movie a slightly altered version of the ad appears in a local newspaper in a small town on the Washington coast, and a writer at Seattle magazine convinces his editor that tracking down whoever placed it would make for an entertaining feature story.
Actually he has an ulterior motive: He wants to look up a girl he dated there one summer many years before. So while he’s looking for her, he turns over the job of finding the guy who placed the ad to a couple of the magazine’s interns he’s brought along, one an undergraduate biology major from India looking for something to add to his grad school application, and the other—the film’s protagonist— a chronically unhappy and socially isolated young woman played by Aubrey Plaza, whom you might know as April on Parks and Recreation. (She’s also a stand-up comic.)
She and the other intern adopt the obvious tactic of camping out across the street from the post office to see who takes mail out of the box in question. There’s a moment’s excitement when an older guy seems about to open the box but opens one next to it instead. That older guy is played by John Silveira, the real-world author of the ad. (He’s also in the credits as a time-travel consultant.)
Eventually a man in his 30s (Mark Duplass, who was originally going to be just the film’s producer, proves to be the guy they’ve been waiting for, so the female intern follows him and discovers he’s just an eccentric loner who works in a grocery store and likes to discuss conspiracy theories. They report back to the writer, who tries to approach the guy and gets nowhere. So he has Aubrey Plaza try to win his confidence as someone answering his ad, figuring the guy will be more intrigued by an attractive young woman. And in fact she manages to make herself interesting enough that Duplass decides she’s a candidate for the job. Still cautious, he wants to test her first before he says too much. In the course of the testing and training he puts her through, he starts to trust her more and more and she finds herself liking him and opening up to him in spite of his apparent craziness. She’s touched that he wants to go back in time only to save the life of someone he deeply cared about. When he asks why she wants to time-travel, she tells him honestly that she misses her late mother.
Everybody turns out to be more complicated and interesting than they first appear. There’s a fair amount of understated comedy and a reasonable amount of mystery, suspense, and drama, all building to a decent ending. I recommend it, and most reviewers appear to have liked it better than I did. It’s won various awards, including one for “overlooked film of the year.”
As someone mentioned to me, this isn’t the movie the most-seen trailer leads you to expect. It’s a Pixar film about a Scottish princess in the Middle Ages who refuses to allow an archery contest among the eldest sons of clan leaders to decide who’s to become her husband. So, taking advantage of a clever reading of the rules, she enters the contest herself.
All that we see in the trailer above, but that turns out to be only an incident in the story, which is mainly about the relationship between the princess and her mother and about their difference of opinion about a princess’s duty.
I didn’t find it quite up to the usual Pixar standards, but it’s still worth seeing. My biggest complaint is that at one point the daughter does something to her mother that I found implausibly awful (though she does sincerely repent). On the positive side, the king, the leaders of the major clans affiliated with him, and the Scotsmen in general are very funny, and some scenes are genuinely suspenseful.
Here's a trailer that's a bit more suggestive of the movie as a whole than the one above:
Full series at this link.
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains why it makes sense to raise the minimum wage:
He didn't even get around to pointing out that if the increase were based on productivity gains rather than just inflation, the minimum wage would be a lot bigger.
This is basically a sports film set in the late Middle Ages and definitely not meant to be taken too seriously. The film gets this across early on by having the spectators at a joust sing “We Will, We Will Rock You” and do the wave, and if you looks carefully, you can see a wooden version of the London Eye Ferris wheel in the distance at one point in a later scene.
Heath Ledger plays the squire of a knight who dies partway through a joust when he was close to winning, so Ledger puts on the armor and competes in his stead. He doesn’t do that well, but combined with the real knight’s points it’s enough for him to win the tournament and, more to the point, a prize that will feed him and the other two starving members of the dead knight’s supporting staff, who are played by Mark Addy (star of the sitcom Still Standing) and Alan Tudyk (the spaceship pilot on Firefly and coincidentally a supporting actor in a lot of films I’ve seen recently). In a stroke of luck they meet someone, namely the young poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who can produce fake patents of nobility that will allow Ledger to keep competing.
The weakest element in the film is Ledger’s love for a young noblewoman played by Shannyn Sossamon. Her character is beautiful but rather a jerk and less appealing than either her maid, played by Bérénice Bejo (the female lead in The Artist and in OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) or the female blacksmith who joins the crew. At least Sossaman eventually starts acting like a human being, or a mammal anyway.
The whole thing is quite silly, corny, and formulaic. The villainous villain gets his comeuppance, deuses leap out of the machinas just in the nick of time, and there’s even one obvious sports movie cliché you’d think even the makers of this film wouldn’t stoop to, but they do.
Despite all that, I rather enjoyed the show, possibly because it’s so cheerfully blatant in its embrace of well-used story conventions, and maybe I was just in a good mood when I watched it. But a lot of other people liked it as well, so at least I’m not alone. I still would have preferred a heroine a bit less in love with herself, though.