Nail Bomber: Manhunt · Whitey Bulger · How To Rob A Bank
Plus another Epstein docuseries, my June review subject, and AFI DOCS
Nail Bomber: Manhunt dropped yesterday on Netflix. In my Primetimer review, I talk about how it left me wanting more in certain ways. Not more of the gore and trauma of the “series of 1999 nail bombings that targeted Black, Bangladeshi, and gay communities and left dozens of horrifying casualties in its wake,” mind you…and I can see what may have motivated director Daniel Vernon’s choices:
…I understand not wanting to platform racist viewpoints like the BNP's, [but] Nail Bomber gives us enough information that I wanted it to dig deeper, not just into the group's activities in the late nineties but into present-day far-right activity in the UK, and what has (and hasn't) changed. We've seen a number of recent true-crime properties, like the docudrama The Investigation, de-centering the bad actors in favor of focusing on investigators and/or survivors. Again, I can see why Vernon may have chosen not to do that here — the bomber's own statements are effective and chilling — but the bomber also isn't named until very late in the documentary, so it almost feels like Vernon wanted to subtract him from the case and just couldn't quite find a way.
But the main thrust of my review is that the film, a brisk yet elliptical 72 minutes, would have still been compelling at twice the length. Give it a look, see if you agree with me. — SDB
Peacock adds its Epstein property to the growing heap next month with Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell. The three-parter bows June 24; Variety notes that it comes to us from Blue Ant Studios, which unless I’ve looked up the wrong thing doesn’t seem to have a track record in the true-crime space. Series director Barbara Shearer has chops, but…maybe not the “premium” sort NBCUniversal unscripted chief Rod Aissa refers to earlier in the Variety piece.
Here’s Shearer on what ES:GM is trying to do:
“There are many unfortunate stories of crimes committed by men against women, but when a woman like Ghislaine Maxwell is accused of this activity, it creates many questions,” said Shearer. “This series sheds light on Maxwell’s path from her past to the present to unravel the enigma that she is, and takes us from the highest echelons of society to a Brooklyn jail cell awaiting trial while the world watches.”
…Okay, in fairness to Shearer, 1) I have Epstein fatigue at the minute and really nothing any content creator says around their Epstein/Maxwell project is going to dispel that; and 2) if Shearer actually wrote this herself, I will eat a fedora, BUT does anyone else think these phrasings are odd? Like, the first part is very stilted and almost reads like it was translated into English; the second part, by contrast, is reflexively glib and sounds like an Oxygen “coming up on” read…or a VO flogging, say, Pretty Dangerous, a previous project of Shearer’s that is precisely what you think it is.
I will more than likely get detailed to this by Primetimer but if I’m not, this is a skip for me, for the reasons above and because my general impression over the last few years is that the wider NBCUniversal system is just not great at the higher-toned stuff. The Law & Order: Menendez thing? Not great. Dirty John? Like L&O, it seemed better than it was because the lead actresses were outstanding, but in many ways, both seasons felt…obligatory, if that makes sense.
Add to alllll of that the fact that the larger Epstein-verse story isn’t close to over — op. cit. Epstein’s jail guards dodging prison, a headline from this very week — and I just…can’t. — SDB
But that doesn’t mean you guys can’t make me! Paid subscribers get to choose (at least) a property a month for me to review, a critique only they get to read — so to get those reviews, and all the ones I’ve written before, grab a subscription today. It’s on sale!
Not to mention that it makes a great gift: artisanal true-crime reviews, zero carbon footprint, supports local craftswomen (granted, what we’re “crafting” is new ways of calling Harvey Weinstein a fuckknuckle, but someone’s got to do it).
If you already support Best Evidence, thank you so much. If you need to stick to supporting us emotionally, versus fiscally, we get that — but if you wouldn’t mind telling a friend that we’re just the thing, we’d love it.
Thanks, guys! — SDB
And speaking of that, it’s time for you to pick my June review topics! I randomized my (massive) to-do backlist and pulled the first five that came up; this time around, there’s a couple podcasts, a couple docuseries, and a documentary Toby Ball told me to watch back when God was in short pants. Look out for both May reviews in the next few days — and in the meantime, pick me a gooder for June!
As usual, this is set to record multiple votes, so if you can’t decide, no problem — just vote for all the ones that look interesting. — SDB
AFI DOCS released their full 2021 fest slate the other day, and you can expect to see several of the films to work their ways into our coverage. Among the properties that concern us here at B.E.:
The First Step (Van Jones “forms an unholy alliance with Jared Kushner to effectuate prison reform legislation”)
North By Current (a death in the filmmaker’s family, and the resulting accusations and questions)
The Slow Hustle (Baltimore detective Sean Suiter is shot and “found dead while on duty”; his death gets tangled up in a widening corruption scandal — directed by Sonja “Kima Greggs” Sohn of The Wire)
Stevie (Steve James’s 2002 film “about the man he had once mentored as a Big Brother” is nearly unbearable at times, in the best way that that can be true; it’s in the Cinema’s Legacy section of the festival, and while maybe it’s not technically true crime, the title figure is accused of serious bad behavior — and was also a victim of it, personally and systemically)
and several shorts, including When We Were Bullies, RIP T-Shirts, and Unforgivable.
Anything look must-watchable that we should try to get a pass or screener for? Let us know! — SDB
Maybe THIS is the property that finally walks me through the James “Whitey” Bulger connections maze of a story without putting me to sleep? My Name Is Bulger drops on Discovery+ June 17 (interesting choice); here’s the rundown from the press release I got yesterday:
Bill Bulger, now 85, was State Senate President for almost 20 years in Massachusetts. His older brother James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was a Boston gangster who was murdered in prison on October 30th 2018, aged 89. MY NAME IS BULGER weaves its way through the stories of both brothers and their respective rises and falls. Featuring intimate interviews with family and an exclusive conversation with James Bulger’s girlfriend and partner, Catherine Greig, the film strips away the hysteria of daily print headlines and nightly news bulletins to unfold the story of a unique American family who crave to be judged for who they are and what they’ve done, not what their infamous relative did.
If you too are torn between giving this one a try and just watching The Departed again, here’s the trailer:
tbh, I think it’s going to go on my to-watch list and…not come off until/unless you lot vote for it as a monthly reviewee, but I’ll hear arguments! — SDB
Our esteemed colleague Margaret Howie tipped us to this look back at Sir Thomas Stevenson, a pioneer in forensic toxicology. Josh Salisbury’s overview of Stevenson’s career as an expert witness is the kind of piece that sends you down a Goodreads hole in search of longer-form info on the story and its era —
In response to the ‘poison panic’ gripping the headlines, the Home Office created a new role of scientific analyst, with the view of getting expert testimony to bolster the quality of evidence in court.
Stevenson took the role up in 1872 – making him involved in the most notorious poisonings of the day.
— especially when a few of the poisoners name-checked in the article were also, and incorrectly, considered Jack The Ripper suspects. But my favorite thing about the piece is part of the hed: “How A Guy’s Doctor Pioneered” etc. etc. I am but a dumb Yank and did not know until getting to the reference a few grafs down that there’s a Guy’s Hospital; prior to that ref, I thought it meant, like, “how some dude’s GP happened to end up putting poisoners in jail”? (Excuse me: “gaol.”) I’m looking at the headline all, “Which guy, though? Like, a famous guy? Guy…Lombardo?”
So…y’all give that a read while I go check the coffee can to make sure I didn’t accidentally buy decaf. — SDB
I also apologize for teasing a Stamos item all week, only to cross-check myself and find Eve already noted it. I had one job! Hee. Anyway: watch Clone High. A lot of my rando references will fall into place once you’ve done so.
Need to know how to start a cult, rob a bank, or pick a lock? The Misfigured Life podcast is here for you. The pod also drops wiz on non-felonious activities like narrating an audiobook and doing your taxes, but our law-abiding readers have already checked that off the to-do (or got an extension like your disorganized correspondent), so let’s see if Misfigured Life has some process-y fun for us in the heist department:
Keep in mind, anything that you need to purchase online - purchase with a pre-paid visa card that you haven’t registered to yourself, and ship the items to an unoccupied house you found on a real-estate app that's relatively far from you - perhaps in the first city you intend to hit. Use the shipping tracking to scoop it up from the porch when it arrives.
…Yep, that’ll do it. I’ve only read transcripts as of this writing — and I’m sorry to say that you’ll find at least one locution, like the R word in this ep’s transcript, that might put you off permanently — but the bank-robbery episode (or “Assertive Withdrawal,” as the pod calls it) felt like the text version of a Soderbergh Ocean’s montage. Here’s another snippet, explaining why the provided script for asking for the money is structured the way it is:
As we said earlier, it’s not technically a robbery - still no force or threat of force - but that verbiage ensures the teller understands what is happening. Claiming the bank is being monitored and specifically instructing no alarms, bait, dye, or trackers reduces the odds of them trying it. We ain’t checkin shit before we leave, but if they think you will they’ll be further discouraged. The single minute timeline is likely impossible for them, but it’s purpose is to reduce time for them to think, discuss, or take creative action. The 50s and 100s are because you want to keep the bulk down and historically trackers have been placed in the lower denominations.
The podcast describes itself as respecting “your time, and absolutely nothing else,” and the host is, and I quote, “Some Random Idiot,” so your mileage may vary on, well, all of it. (Unless there’s a “Get Better Gas Mileage” episode I didn’t see.) But as someone who used to live down the street from a Santander that got robbed twice in three weeks, by the same guy, who didn’t use a disguise either time, this spoke to something in me. (Again, content warning for language, and if you’ve listened to it and it outright sucks on audio, let me and your fellow readers know.) — SDB
Friday on Best Evidence: Dunno yet! We welcome suggestions, though, so if you’ve got one, hit the comments or look just below this segment for other ways to reach us.