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Safety Not Guaranteed

Mar 29, 2013


DVD

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have done this only once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

Several minutes into the film “Safety Not Guaranteed,” in which a Seattle magazine intern tracks down the nut who placed the above ad, I realized something: This quirky little film’s success would hinge almost wholly on the casting and performance of the actor who plays the nut. When he finally appears, working in a grocery store on the Washington coast, I smiled. This, I knew, would work.

It does work — fabulously well, in fact. Mark Duplass, as the guy who thinks he can time travel, pulls off a miracle performance in a role that easily could have lost the audience. This cheaply made indie has no greater aspiration than to tell a good story, and that it does. But it hits so many pitch-perfect notes with every character, line and plot development that it veers deliriously close to sublime perfection. And that is not a joke.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012) Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Starring Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson and Aubrey Plaza. 94 minutes. Rated R for brief language.

ALBUM

In the early 2000s, following the release of two successful records, pop rock icon David Bowie retired from the music business. Of course, musicians’ retirements never last, and the man behind Ziggy Stardust has now released his first album in a decade.

While some would label it a comeback, “The Next Day” is just another solid addition to Bowie’s library of albums – now numbering 24. He doesn’t try to reinvent himself here or dwell on old tunes.

The album begins with the vigorous title track, a thumping proto-punk offering with the catchy chorus, “Here I am, not quite dying / my body left to rot in a hollow tree.” The aging rock star incorporates themes of growing old and the inevitable. But he does so with enough piss and vinegar that the album never sounds dated or nostalgic. At 66, Bowie is as contemporary as he’s ever been.

The second track, “Dirty Boys,” has been heralded for its cool swanky blues vibe, but for me it edges too close to cliche. I prefer the later addition of “Boss of Me,” a blend of Morphine-inspired, saxophone-driven melody and Talking Heads rhythm. In fact, while the first half of “The Next Day” is weighted toward catchier songs — like the soft, sweet, slow-going first single, “Where Are We Now?” — it’s the second half of this 14-track album that honors, and enhances, Bowie’s greatness. “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and “I’d Rather Be High” are arena rock songs gone weird, packing Bowie’s signature punch.

“The Next Day” is, simply put, fun listening. It’s impressive that Bowie’s oddball brand of pop rock continues to intrigue nearly a half-century after his first recordings.

“The Next Day,” David Bowie, 2013, Columbia.

BOOK

You can’t help but like Aurora Teagarden, the sleuth of “Three Bedrooms, One Corpse.” She’s practical, independent and down-to-earth, characteristics not shared by everyone in her medium-size Georgia town. With equal aplomb, she deals with whatever comes her way — deflecting the too-helpful advice of her high-society mother; shopping for clothes to fit her petite frame; or discovering a corpse or two.

In this installment of a series of Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, “Roe,” as she’s known, finds her first dead body while showing a luxurious home to potential buyers. Or not showing it, technically, since she’s still studying for her real estate license and is only filling in for her Realtor mother.

But whatever the status of Roe’s real estate efforts, the corpse is quite real, strangled and posed luridly on the bed in the master bedroom. While Roe is shocked and saddened by the murder, her reaction is not debilitating, for several reasons: First, she has lent her sleuthing skills to murder investigations before; second, she knew but didn’t particularly admire the deceased; and third, she is distracted by a mad attraction to the client who was touring the house.

All three of those factors play out in the pages that follow. Roe ponders the crime, plays her part in the social rituals surrounding the death and explores her feelings for the client in a variety of creative ways.

And she does all this while conducting her own search for a home — a clever setting that allows author Charlaine Harris to explore not only the characters and the mystery, but also our fascination with looking at houses and seeing how other people live.

“Three Bedrooms, One Corpse” is an enjoyable, quick read. When I picked it up, I had no idea I’d like it so much.

Now I’m looking forward to reading other Aurora Teagarden books, including the earlier installments, in which she’s still working as a librarian. And I also want to try other books written by Harris, who has authored several series set in the South and featuring strong female protagonists.

“Three Bedrooms, One Corpse, An Aurora Teagarden Mystery,” by Charlaine Harris, Worldwide Library, 1995.

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