The Blotter Presents 148: Miracle Fishing and Exhibit A

Plus: "Capone" reviewed, Cosby's appeal, Court TV's new Menendez pod, and more

Today’s pod features a documentary Jeb Lund and I both liked that ISN’T widely available; and a limited series we were mixed on, which IS out there on Netflix. Let’s start with Miracle Fishing, a son’s contemporary video journal of his father’s kidnapping by FARC guerrillas, the story of which formed the basis for the feature film Proof Of Life (as the meme goes, I said what I said). Relatable, process-y, and utterly unique, we both thought it was enjoyable, and you should set a search for it. And why IS the money drop always in el baño?

Exhibit A is easier to find, but while I thought it was super-watchable, Jeb was wishing for a 1.5-speed setting on Netflix…and we both wondered whether Kelly Loudenberg’s spotlight on the unreliability of “gold standard” forensic science considered doing an episode on arson investigation, then thought better of it. I don’t think YOU’LL think better of watching this one — but maybe skip to E02 to start.


Neither of us rewatched Proof Of Life to compare and contrast; should we bother? Let us know! In the meantime, listen to Ep 148 right here. — SDB

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“After valiant attempts to resist an ‘a HIGHER court is now…in SESSIONS’ pun proved ineffective, Bunting fired herself at 7:58 local time.” While my replacement gets up to speed, here’s the actual item, a remembrance of the law-enforcement career of William S. Sessions — pictured above at right, he was director of the FBI during both the Ruby Ridge and the Waco debacles — on the occasion of his death earlier this month. Texas Monthly’s Joe Holley notes that, for most Americans, that’s the lede in the obit (that, or “not THAT Sessions; the other one”), but that Texans will remember Sessions for two other big cases:

As the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, Sessions brought an end to the notorious reign of George Parr, the all-powerful patron in Duval and adjacent South Texas counties. It was Parr, known as the “Duke of Duval” (and as tacuacha, sly possum), who perpetrated the infamous “Box 13” scandal that sent Lyndon B. Johnson to the U.S. Senate in 1948. The notorious vote-fraud scheme arguably changed the course of American history but was not all that unusual for the Parr family, which relied on mundane bribery, graft, intimidation, and violence to keep its machine running for more than six decades. Sessions finally broke the family’s South Texas stranglehold in 1974 by convincing a federal grand jury that Parr was guilty of income tax evasion and perjury. “The Duke” killed himself before going to prison. 

Appointed to the federal bench by President Gerald Ford in 1974, Sessions presided over the trials of four people charged in the assassination of Judge John H. Wood Jr., his predecessor as chief judge for the Western District of Texas. Wood was shot in the back outside his Alamo Heights townhome in 1979. In a so-called trial of the century in 1982, Charles Harrelson (actor Woody Harrelson’s father) was convicted of killing Wood for a $250,000 fee. He was sentenced to consecutive life terms.  

I always forget about that line in Harrelson’s bio! I also almost forgot that there’s a relatively recent podcast about Harrelson Sr., Son Of A Hitman (Woody doesn’t participate, but his brothers Brett and Jordan do). In any case, the TM obit is jam-packed with info and well worth a read. — SDB

Court TV dropped a new podcast on Erik and Lyle Menendez yesterday. I literally cannot imagine what else “Murder and the Menendez Brothers: A Court TV Mystery” could have to tell us about this case, which is revisitnip to content producers, but Episode 1 covers “that investigation and the little things it took for the brothers to avoid suspicion…at least for a little while.” You could make the argument that, because the Menendez case made Court TV (and vice versa, in terms of the murders of Jose and Kitty becoming and remaining bold-type topics in the genre), the network has exclusive access to materials that other deep dives might not. You could also make the argument that, with everything else going on in the world, the still-disputed (…I guess) circumstances surrounding these now-middle-aged brothers’ killing of their parents in the ’80s is safe to the point of tone-deafness.

That said, I may have a listen — and I fully expect this to be just the first in a series of case-specific pods from Court TV, which as of this writing has MatMB; The Court TV podcast, a weekly drop that focuses primarily on current trials; and that’s it. — SDB

Also courtesy of Court TV, this time their website’s Top Stories sidebar: it’s the return of Today In True-Crime Buttholes! Only two, but they’re big ones…

  • Robert Durst’s request for a COVID mistrial was denied yesterday. Proceedings are set to restart “next month in an Inglewood courthouse that has a larger courtroom to accommodate social distancing.”

  • The PA Supreme Court has agreed to review Bill Cosby’s conviction. Cosby has long argued that 1) prosecutors shouldn’t have been allowed to call five other accusers to testify “about long-ago encounters”; and 2) “he had an agreement with a former prosecutor that he would never be charged in the case,” which is what he thought would protect him when he testified in the trial accuser’s lawsuit. Cosby spox Andrew Wyatt gave barfy remarks suggesting that Cosby is a martyr within a racist system, and the idea that, as in R. Kelly’s case, the two things can both be true — he’s a predator and institutional bias screwed him over — is likely to get lost. I didn’t find a proposed timeline for the higher court hearing the case; Cosby, 82, remains behind bars outside of Philadelphia. — SDB

One of these days, the Theranos trial is going to start…and if we have enough paid subscribers, Eve and I are going to cover it in person (in matching Tyvek, if necessary). If you’re not already a paid subscriber, won’t you join us? We know times are tight, but paid subs let us plan big-time coverage, and pay our esteemed contributors for all of their cool ideas. (“EYE have a cool idea; will you pay ME?” Not a lot, but: yeah! Send those pitches to editorial at the-blotter dot com!) It’s just $5 a month, and socially distanced for your safety. — SDB

Here’s one of those esteemed contribs now — Margaret Howie, who took one for the team by watching Capone and ranking Tom Hardy’s true-crime joints.

While he’s not got that Sarah Koenig/Errol Morris name-brand association with true crime yet, Tom Hardy’s clearly fond of the genre, spending his time outside of Christopher Nolan flicks and Venom making movies which may well have started with a deep dive into Murderpedia. Whether he’s trying to get Scorsese’s attention or just a passionate lurker on r/TrueCrime, in honor of the release of Capone out now on VOD, here’s a ranking of all his based-on-a-real-story films.

  1. Bronson (2008)

A hyper-violent movie based on the bestselling books of a notorious prisoner with an estranged relationship with the truth, and directed by a budding auteur? This is Chopper, right, the Australian take on Tarantino that catapulted Eric Bana into movie stardom? It was until Nicolas Winding Refn took the blueprint and ran with it, saving Tom Hardy from being “that guy who played an evil Picard clone one time.” Charles Bronson was a rubbish criminal who only gained notoriety behind bars as “Britain’s most violent prisoner.” Hardy is terrific in the role, showing off in turns as a buffoon, a sentimental fool, a conniving manipulator, and a bully, locked in a perpetual battle with a broken system.

More on the real story: Bronson’s first memoir is the source material for the movie. Take it with several pinches of salt.

Where to watch: Streaming on Roku; available for rent on Apple Movies, Google Play, YouTube and Amazon Video.

  1. Lawless (2012)

Lawless screenwriter Matt Bondurant based the story on his real-life grandfather, who ran a bootlegging operation in Virginia like an Appalachian Vito Corleone. Their handiwork would be at the centre of a 1935 criminal trial dubbed the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy by Sherwood Anderson, but the movie is more interested in the empire-building and bloodshed than courtroom dramas. Sometimes it veers over the top, like Guy Pearce’s evil cop going full Hitler, and it basically forgets to give its female characters anything to do. But if you can overlook the movie’s request that you believe that Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy could share genetic material while playing brothers Forrest and Jack Bondurant, this is the Prohibition-era gangster story in Hardy’s back catalogue to watch instead of Capone.

More on the real story: The Great Moonshine Conspiracy podcast episode gets into the history of the trial.

Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix; available for rent on Apple Movies, Google Play, YouTube and Amazon Video.

  1. London Road (2015)

Hear the phrase “serial killer movie musical” and there’s two assumptions you’re gonna make — either it’s schlock or an art project. London Road is the latter, based on a controversial play about the residents of the suburban road where the “Ipswich Ripper” Steve Wright lived. Wright’s arrest for the murders of sex workers brought the police and media to their door and made the area synonymous with his crimes. The entire screenplay is based on the verbatim transcripts of interviews with residents, and it’s sung by non-expert singers including Olivia Colman and, in a small role as a creepy taxi driver, Hardy. The movie’s slow revelation that it’s the stigma of sex work that concerns the community, more than their neighbor being a murderer, is chilling. As social commentary goes, this is original and fascinating. The singing? Let’s just say it’s no Hamilton.

More on the real story: Read this profile of a sex worker who survived Stuart Wright and the killings of her friends.

Where to watch: Streaming on Hoopla and Britbox; available for rent on Apple Movies, Google Play, YouTube and Amazon Video.

  1. Legend (2015)

You can fill several bookshelves with memoirs from various London East End associates of the Kray brothers, the notorious twins who reigned over seedy operations in the swinging ’60s and indirectly inspired most of Guy Ritchie’s back catalogue. However, Legend doesn’t have the vulgar fizz of Ritchie’s early capers. Hardy plays both twins, but his performances seem stuck in two different movies. One is devoted to the melodrama of Ronnie, here portrayed as the sane, straight twin, and his doomed marriage to Emily Browning’s delicate Frances. The other is full of the unhinged hijinks of Reggie, the awkward sociopath with a fondness for angel-faced rent boy/killer “Mad” Teddy Smith (Taron Egerton). The problem is, Reggie’s weirdness, violence, and sex parties are a whole lot more interesting than Ronnie and Frances’s worn-out heterosexual angst. Ticks most of the familiar Cockney Geezer boxes without bringing anything new to the table.

More on the real story: Material on the brothers abounds, including a Kray Twins wiki and this article on how the brothers became a brand.

Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix; available for rent on Apple Movies, Google Play, YouTube and Amazon Video.

  1. Child 44 (2015)

There are at least four movies based on the real-life serial killer Andrei “the Butcher of Rostov” Chikatilo, but only Child 44 will give you Tom Hardy doing a Russian-accent face-off with Gary Oldman. Unfortunately, even with a supporting cast packed with Scandi Noir stars like Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, and Fares Fares, director Daniel Espinosa squanders their talents. Having backdated the time period that Chikatilo was active (he did most of his killing in the 1980s) to 1950s Moscow, the movie changes the reason he remained at large for so long. For Hardy’s Captain Leo Demidov, murder cannot exist in the Soviet Union because only capitalists murder, so his investigation has to operate outside of the system. In reality, it was police incompetence as much as ideology that failed Chikatilo’s victims. But instead of a tightly-wound thriller, most of the film is characters whispering to each other in a series of poorly-lit rooms while fake snow falls outside.

More on the real story: The Killer Department: Detective Viktor Burakov's Eight-Year Hunt for the Most Savage Serial Killer in Russian History by Robert Cullen is widely regarded as the best book on the case.

Where to watch: Streaming on Roku; available for rent on Apple Movies, Google Play, YouTube and Amazon Video.

  1. Capone (2020)

An unorthodox and knowingly stagy, non-linear story from an unreliable narrator known from just his last name — worked a treat in Bronson, so maybe that’s what attracted Hardy to playing Al Capone. There had to be something about this — free sandwiches? — that drew Hardy to this farrago, which features more bodily fluids than the combined series of Jackass. Full of baffling choices that come off like a dumb person’s idea of a smart person’s movie, you can’t say Capone isn’t ambitious. Hardy gnaws on the scenery in geriatic drag, his first-rate face plastered with third-rate makeup (why is he so pale? The movie takes place in Florida, for Pete’s sake). For a movie so perfectly calibrated for lockdown, with its themes of house arrest, surveillance, paranoia, medical care, and family drama, it’s just too confusing and posturing to get anywhere. Watch it for the meme potential or morbid curiosity only. 

More on the real story: There are a million Capone properties out there, but you could do worse than rewatch The Untouchables (1987), just for Sean Connery in a newsboy cap.

Where to watch: Available for rent on Apple Movies, Google Play, YouTube and Amazon Video. — Margaret Howie

Thursday on Best Evidence: A great escape, Nextdoor agonistes, and a brief history of the Shake Shack-v.-NYPD debacle.

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