Taxonomy of mystery stories

I went looking specifically for a taxonomy of detective plots. The ‘locked room’ plot is the only one of which I was aware, but I was sure there were other such. In the event, I did better, finding a more general taxonomy of mysteries, which includes plots but also other ways of classifying detective and mystery stories. For a listologist like me, it’s a delight:

I had in mind that Russian dude who did a thing on the Russian folk tale which was quite important in the development of narratology:
Propp, Vladimir 1968 [1928], The Morphology of the Folktale, tr. Laurence Scott, from Morfologia Skazi, Leningrad) University of Texas Press, Austin (second edition 1970). There’s also this:
Todorov, Tzvetan 1977, ‘The typology of detective fiction’ [1966] and ‘An introduction to verisimilitude,’ [1967] in The Poetics of Prose, Cornell UP, Ithaca.

Lady Bird

A pleasant domestic story, so in that sense not completely unlike Brooklyn, one difference being that Ronan does this one with a Californian accent, whereas in the other she drew on her genealogical background to play someone from Ireland. I didn’t believe for more than a moment that she was 17 (she was about 22), but it didn’t impede plausibility generally. This young lady has far to go. She won’t win the Oscar because Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins are in the queue ahead of her, but she may if she gets the right part later.

I was amused to learn that Sacramento (the capital) is the ‘mid-west of California’. I guess that wherever you happen to grow up can seem tedious, even if it is Paris or Machu Pichu.

(When I first heard the title I wondered why anyone would make a biopic about Lyndon Johnson’s wife. They could have thought of a different name with a similar effect.)

Get Out

This is a genuine thriller. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, it can have a real effect: it did on me.
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) prod. Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jordan Peele; Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener; nominated for Best Film Actor; nominated for Best Actor Oscar: Daniel Kaluuya

Darkest Hour

If you’d told me in 1996 when Idiot Box was released, or in 2000 with Sample People, or 2001, with Mullet, and above all in 2010, when Animal Kingdom came out, with Ben Mendelsohn superb as a loser, small-time career criminal, that Mendo would get to play the King of England in 2017, I would have lolled. I think Ben would have too. But here he is doing quite a plausible representation of Geo VI – tho HRH his daughter would almost certainly disagree.

Oh, and there’s this other guy, a Londoner, in the part of the PM. Unfortunately for my estimation of Oldman, I happen to live three doors from an actor who has recently played Churchill in a stage play. I worked with James Hagan on my front verandah reading in lines for him as he prepared for the role, and I have to say that I could believe that I was in the presence of Churchill himself when James was six feet away, with no (four-hour) makeup on: just acting – mostly with his amazing voice.

That digression is my self-disqualification for commenting on Oldman’s performance – which is pretty much the point of the film’s existing. It’s one of those specific acting exercises – which has been carried out by Robert Hardy, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Brendan Gleeson, and so on. Churchill created himself to some extent: the V sign, the cigar, the elocution, and it’s not surprising that it’s a recurrent challenge to re-create him.

Call Me By Your Name

As a homosexual love story, this is not something to which I relate. However, that’s mostly relegated to the third act. I saw the film mainly in relation to its setting, in both social and geographical terms. It’s set in the Italian countryside (but could also be in France, as French is spoken as much as Italian), and in the bosom of a charming family, in whose company I felt like a welcome visitor.

I saw Chalamet in Lady Bird, where he comes across a spoilt American brat, unlike here, where he is sophisticated and charming. I’m not sure how much of this is his acting (he’s so young) and how much the effect of the design and direction  (Luca Guadagnino, 2017).

The Post

I suppose this had to be made. … Spielberg might be a great cinema director, but judging by this film he’s not a good director of actors. Or maybe he thought that Hanks and Streep are such masters of their craft that he didn’t have to get them to do any work on their roles. Her nomination for an award is clearly undeserved: she looks bored.

It’s about the Washington Post‘s publication of the Pentagon Papers. The New York Times is in the story too, but I couldn’t have cared about less about their relative positions. Some paper published some classified documents: did it really need two hours to get that fact across?

The Shape of Water

I am surprised the poster gives away so much about the creature, and that the image shows the end of the film. Also unusually, the story first shows him quite close to the beginning of the film. Clearly, a surprise disclosure was not the plan – and for a reason: the story is a ‘fairytale’ as old as all the time in which people have been telling children stories about monsters, and gods, and princes charming.

I was disappointed at the naivety of the conception, tho I admit it has its charm – and also complexity.

Invasion Day

The only local impact was the flyover of twenty or so old aeroplanes – rather different from that of Remembrance Day, when there was a scary flyover by a fighter aircraft of today: an FA118 or whatever.
But the message is the same: National Day < nationalism > militarism.
With my interest in language, I’m very aware that the first two letters in ‘Nazi’ are the first two letters of ‘National’. It’s not a coincidence; it’s a historical fact.


So far (for me) the standout is Three Billboards.  I really like also Call Me by Your Name, and Lady Bird. I thought Darkest Hour ordinary. Dunkirk is out because I can’t tolerate war films. The Post is less than ordinary: it’s on the way to bad, and Meryl Streep’s nom for Best Actress (the only one for the film) is just a courtesy: she’s not good in the role. I haven’t as yet been able to see Get Out, Phantom Thread, or The Shape of Water.
My page of Oscars info is here.