Tag Archives: movie

Harry Hole.

JonesboI’ve been on a Jo Nesbo kick lately, initiated by a visit to a Milwaukee used bookstore where a grimy stack of Harry Hole thrillers at unbelievably low prices called my name.   Hole, for the uninitiated, is an icon in crime fiction – the quintessential outsider, alcoholic and drug addict, somehow always in control even when out of control, inspiring loyalty and scorn in equal measure, taking an amazing amount of physical abuse while suffering most from emotional blows.  Sounds like a drag, right?  But readers are sucked in to the Harry vortex, happily turning pages well into the night, and starting the next book within hours (or even moments) of finishing the previous one.  You can find a list of all ten books on Nesbo’s website.  My strong recommendation, if you’re new to Harry, is to read them in order.  They stand up well if you don’t – each is fully realized on its own – but you’ll be creating spoilers galore.

They’re all good, compulsively readable, densely plotted with interesting characters (particularly the villains).  Roger Ebert said that you can always figure out the bad guy in movies because he’s the one that has no real reason for being in the film.  (He calls it The Law of Economy of Characters.) The neighbor who takes in the protagonist’s cat.  The main character’s best friend from high school.  The doorman that is in a few too many scenes, when there’s no real reason for the building to even HAVE a doorman.  And so on.  Also true in poorly written crime fiction or mysteries.

This never happens in a Harry Hole book… there are always plenty of potential bad guys and even when it turns out to be someone very close to Harry, it’s still a complete shock.  Read The Snowman, my current fave, if you want to experience this yourself.


Paul Bettany

Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz

And Hollywood’s come knocking for Harry… interestingly, with The Snowman.  Scorsese was expected to direct, but I see now that has changed.  No cast announcements have been made, although fans are suggesting Paul Bettany or Alexander Skarsgard, and I totally see Rachel Weisz as Rakel.




Never Let Me Go – the book, the movie!

goI recently picked up Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Goat my favorite Chicagoland independent bookstore, The Book Table in Oak Park.  Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day, which I enjoyed, and the blurb on the front quoted Time magazine with “A page-turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish.”  Sold!

The story opens in the first person, with 31-year-old Kathy H. talking about her career.  She’s some kind of healthcare worker, supporting donors of some kind, and reflecting on her experiences, her life, and her upbringing in Hailsham.  As a child, she lived in Hailsham – a boarding school in the English countryside – where the rules were strict, but there was fun to be had and friends to be made.  And as Kath recalls and recounts her life, it becomes apparent that something has happened in that world that never happened in this one:  a mid-century scientific discovery has led society to clone human beings and raise these children to be donors, stripping them of their organs much as a junker car is kept around for spare parts.

Against this matter-of-fact macabre background, there is a love triangle, for Kathy loves Tommy, who is stolen by Kathy’s beautiful best friend, Ruth.  And so for these three, what little happiness they could have had is taken from them by humility, entitlement, compassion and fear  – all too human traits, considering that society seems them as subhuman.

As they transition into the world, Kath becomes a “carer,” who comforts and helps the donors after they recover from each donation.   (Donors will typically manage three or perhaps four donations before they “complete.”)  And of course the story plays out as Kathy cares for Ruth and then for Tommy, enjoying at last a brief period of love and even hope – which is, of course, doomed.

Let us just say that there were sniffles.  Plenty of them.  Several hankies worth.

Then I discovered that the book had been made into a movie in 2010, starring Carey Mulligan as Kath, Keira Knightley as Ruth and Andrew Garfield as Tommy.   The film is well-cast (although Tommy is not quite as strapping in the movie as he was in the book – I would have like a more robust actor) and faithful to the story, for the most part.   It was awesome.  More sniffles on my part.  On the other hand, my husband (who hadn’t read the book) said it dragged.  He fidgeted.  Open mocking of wifely sniffling.

My conclusion:  Husband, mean.  Book, good.  Movie, good.  Both, double good.  Go for it.

Spend Sunday with Sakey’s Brilliance

marcusMarcus Sakey seems to have it all going on lately!  He’s built a reputation for solid crime fiction, is the host of Hidden City on the Travel Channel, is a frequent panelist and faculty member at fan and writing conferences, and (I can attest) is super-engaging on Facebook.  And he’s really knocked it out of the park with his latest novel, a genre-bending mash-up of thriller and sci-fi, Brilliance.

Protagonist Nick Cooper is one of the 1%.  Not the 1% of wealthiest Americans, but the 1% of Americans born since 1980 with a special ability – Nick is “brilliant” at instantaneously evaluating what people will do, and getting there before them.  This physical gift makes him especially skilled in physical combat.  Others of the 1% have other gifts.  With the exception of their particular gift, the “brilliants” are normal.

brillianceNot surprisingly, the 99% fear and want to control the 1%.  Surprisingly, Nick’s an agent with the Department of Analysis and Response – the federal agency charged with identifying, finding, and neutralizing those gifted who resist control:  terrorists.  Nick’s so committed that he goes undercover to hunt the uber-terrorist John Smith, leaving behind his wife, his kids, his partner and his colleagues in a desperate bid to simultaneously save the country AND keep his tier-one talented daughter in the family.  (Gifted children are taken away and sent to  a special training academy.)   The stakes are high.

And, of course, complications ensue.  Nick may be gifted, but he’s not all-knowing, and it takes a while for him to recognize  that the DAR is not what it purports to be.   He’s undercover, on the run, with a new love interest.  Terrible things happen and he’s responsible for many of them.   The final scenes are fraught with tension, as Nick must draw upon the strength of his friendship with his former partner to win the day.  Does he win it?  Yes, for now.  But Brilliance is clearly the first book in a planned series.

I’m thinking a movie series as well… the concept is awesome, the first book is packed with great characters and compelling action, and there’s plenty of room for continued conflict.  It’s like Jason Bourne with psychic powers.  Sure enough, Screenrant says Tobey Maguire’s producing and they’re talking James Franco for Nick Cooper.  (I’m not seeing that casting.  Jake Gyllenhal?  Jim Sturgess?)

My recommendation:  get the book and spend Sunday in Sakey’s world.  Want more insight into the book?  Here’s a link to an NPR email interview with the author.

Child’s A Wanted Man a solid hit

In 1997, Putnam released The Killing Floor and Jack Reacher was born.  Sixteen books and 15 years later, Lee Child’s A Wanted Man is testament to the longevity of the “outsider” archetype.   The outsider – a mysterious, rootless man of imposing stature and exceptional skill – is common in literature and film.  Example?  He was brought to life by Clint Eastwood in the 1964 movie, A Fistful of Dollars.

The basic plot of a Reacher story, like all outsider stories, appears simple.  Reacher enters.  He has no connection to what is unfolding around him, but his presence changes the ultimate outcome.  There are bad people and there are good people and there is violence.  Reacher is touched by, but ultimately separate from, these events and those people.

A formula?  I suppose.  But compared to other “formula” authors, Lee Child has kept his Reacher novels fresh and exciting.  The varying locales, introduction of new characters, inventive and timely plots, and a willingness to let Reacher change – albeit very slowly – all work in his favor.

That being said, A Wanted Man is an excellent outing for Jack Reacher, a solid read for fans like me and a great opportunity for newbies (if there are any) to sample the series.

The story starts with Reacher hitchhiking across the midwest, on his way to Virginia.  Series fans will know why, others will wonder and then learn that he’s traveling cross-country to meet a woman he has only heard on the phone.  (Character growth for Reacher – he’s actually seeking something for himself here!)  He spends many hours, and about a third of the book, in a car with the three people who picked him up.  Pretenders all, it’s up to Reacher to decide who they really are, what they’re really doing, and how to stay alive.

On a parallel track is the story of FBI agent Julia Sorenson and her quest to solve the mystery of the man murdered in a concrete bunker out in the boonies.  He walked in with two others, they walked out… all that came out of man #3 was his blood, inching its way under the door.   The agent’s work is hampered by the disappearance of witnesses, the lack of cooperation from her own and other federal agencies.

No surprise that the two plots intersect. Reacher, Sorenson, and a third person I won’t name in order to avoid a spoiler, work together to solve the mystery.  The basic premise of the story, the unusually twisty nature of the plot and the secrets of the characters make A Wanted Man one of the best novels in the series.

Likes:  Reacher’s quest to reach Virginia, his physical limitations in this book, Julia Sorenson’s strong female character and the equally compelling Karen Delfuenso, the hint of a terrorist threat that is not overdone, and how the grit and determination of the characters plays out.  I also admire and enjoy Child’s way of establishing Reacher’s character through thoughts and action… he’s the king of showing not telling!

Dislikes:  None, really.  The bad guys are maybe not quite smart enough to be a worthy challenge for Reacher – I’d like to see him go up against a present-day Professor Moriarity.

Aside:  By now, most are aware that Tom Cruise has been cast to play Jack Reacher in an upcoming film adaptation of One Shot, which was an excellent book and number nine in the series.  (No surprise they didn’t pick an early book – Cruise is no spring chicken.)  The movie is titled Jack Reacher and is coming out at Christmas, which shows that Paramount is expecting a blockbuster.  I’ll go to see it, but I gotta say… Tom Cruise?  For 240-lb, 6’5″ rough-and-ready Reacher?  Fans are understandably dismayed.   What have they done, cast little people in all other roles?  Other actors I’d consider for Reacher include:

Liam Neeson – a little old, but he has the action movie cred and is 6’4″.  He’d need to lose that subtle accent he has, though.

Russell Crowe – only 5’11”, but he’s got the beat-up appearance, physicality, and he’s an awesome actor.

Joe Manganiello – he’s got all the physical attributes, plus he’s the right age AND he’s an emerging actor (classically trained!).  He may not have the box-office draw to open a Christmas movie in 2012, but he’d have the longevity to support the series through multiple movies.  Ah, what might have been.

Additional aside:  Lee Child himself kind of has the Reacher thing going on.

The word on “The Words” – movie review!

I love movies.  I love books.  Often, there is the opportunity to see a movie based on a book, whether its the weepy Bridges of Madison County (movie better than the book!) to Burglar based on Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series (books waaaay better than the movie).  But rarely is there an opportunity to see a movie based on a literary premise.  The Words is one such movie.  So I hustled myself over to the Lake Theater in beautiful downtown Oak Park, IL, sneaking in a small stash of candy from the conveniently located Fannie May store, just next door.

It looked promising.  A plot is often the answer to a “what if?” question.  In this case, the “what if?” was based on a real life occurrence: Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, accidentally left a suitcase full of manuscripts on a train.  In The Words, the premise is “What if a wife left her husband’s beautiful, soul-stirring manuscript on a train, and it was discovered 50 years later by a struggling writer?”

No surprise, struggling writer submits manuscript as his own, receives great acclaim, gets his own previously-rejected-but-much-deserving-if-not-quite-as-good novels published, and then is confronted about his thievery by the actual author.

The movie is basically a story-within-a-story-within a story.  There’s Bradley Cooper, the struggling author who receives the briefcase containing the manuscript from his new wife when honeymooning in Paris.  Then there’s the old man, played by Jeremy Irons – a love story of a simple American GI who falls in love in Paris during World War I and comes back to marry his beloved, who pours out his love and grief when his baby daughter dies and heart-broken wife leaves him.  And then there’s the framing story – the idea that The Words is a best-selling novel by a famous author (Dennis Quaid), which is being read aloud to us at a book launch/lecture.

Friends, that is too many stories.  Like the Escher drawing where two hands, each holding a pencil, is drawing the other hand, it’s cute and only mind-blowing in the most superficial way.  And for all the talk of love and all the male-female dynamics in the movie, the romance was not very engaging.

Generally, the actors all do a good job, with Jeremy Irons particularly effective as the old man, while Bradley Cooper exudes charisma.  The direction is better than competent.  There was one beautiful, heart-tugging scene, well-acted and cinematically skillful.  This is when the Old Man, still young but years after he and his wife have parted, spies his former love on a train platform with her new husband and toddler.  She is luminous in her happiness, and he is dumbstruck, simply watching through the train window.  As the train begins to move, she glances up and meets his gaze.  He lifts a hand, a very small movement, and his faces changes subtly.  She lifts hers to him, an unspoken acknowledgement.  The train picks up speed and pulls away.

Worth seeing?  For me, yes.  But I was happy that I hadn’t dragged my husband to it. He’s not much for sophomoric, “deep thoughts” movies.

One for the Money Faithful to Evanovich

The Katherine Heigl movie based on Janet Evanovich’s first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money, is getting terrible reviews.  Here are actual quotes from some reviews.  I am presenting them as ad “blurbs”  for your entertainment:

So, of course, I went to see it.  I’ve blogged about Stephanie Plum before  (here and here) and I was curious to see how the Trenton, NJ gal translated to the big screen.

I’m not afraid to say it:  folks, it was not that bad.  Really.  It was actually kind of fun.  Katherine Heigl is maybe not quite sassy enough to be Stephanie, but she’s believable.  The “no-name” actor who plays Morelli is cute as all get out.  The actor playing Ranger is no Benjamin Bratt, but he can’t help it that I had cast Bratt in my head when I read the books.  And Debbie Reynolds is not quite ethnic enough to be Grandma Mazur, but she’s still a hoot.

All the minor characters could have been pulled right out of an Evanovich book.  The plot (about which the word “convoluted” is usually used) is totally Plum.  If it’s not 100% word for word what Evanovich wrote, I can tell you, it is completely in keeping.  I gotta say – if you like the books, you’ll probably like the movie.  Since the studio is investing approximately $0 in marketing, here’s the trailer.

One last note:  it’s pretty clear that the market for Janet Evanovich is women over 45.   I’m being generous here, since if the 1:00 movie at the Lake Theater in Oak Park, IL, is any indication, the actual target demographic should be 63.5 years of age.  I was definitely on the young side.  The ladies loved it.  The women’s room was much a-twitter immediately following the show.

Catching up on reviews: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I have a wonderful stack of Edgar nominees on my bedside table, but I am refusing to dive into them until I have finished up with other books!  I snagged the Orange Prize-winning novel We Need to Talk About Kevin at the library.  It caught my eye because of the movie that’s out featuring a personal fave, Tilda Swinton.  I had some trepidation, as the focus is (not really a spoiler here) on an unusual teenager and a school killing spree. Dear reader, these feelings of foreboding were fulfilled.  Completely.

I read the book, which is presented through a series of letters from Eva (Kevin’s mom) to Franklin (Kevin’s dad), with a growing feeling of dread.   Kevin’s abnormal behavior started young; if Eva is to be believed, at birth.  Genial Franklin is clueless and is much more likely to blame his wife, the neighbors, the teachers, other students at Kevin’s school, in fact, anyone at all rather than face reality.

With the arrival of baby #2, I was literally biting the skin off around my fingernails to relieve the tension.

Then Kevin takes up archery.  OMG.  How can this be a good idea?  Someone stop this train wreck!

I cannot begin to recount the aberrant behavior, Eva’s hand-wringing and worry, Franklin’s suspicions of his wife and is misplaced bonhomie towards his role-playing son.   Even more disturbing is the cat-and-mouse game that Kevin and Eva play.  Usually Kevin’s the cat, but not always.

It all leads to what you anticipate… and yet, it is so much worse than you expect.  That’s all I’ll say.  Very much worse.

Of course, Kevin goes to jail.  And Eva visits him there.  For she does not know – was Kevin born this way?  Or did she make him this way because she did not love him?  On the final page, Eva recounts –

“This is all I know.  That on the 11th of April, 1983, unto me a son was born, and I felt nothing.  Once again, the truth is always larger than what we make of it.  As that infant squirmed on my breast, from which he shrank in such distaste, I spurned him in return- he may have been a fifteenth my size, but it seemed fair at the time.  Since that moment we have fought one another with an unrelenting ferocity that I can almost admire.”

The film is getting 80% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and similar ratings on IMDB.com.   Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gave it just two stars, summing it up as “The Bad Seed and How!”  Creepy, disturbing, and soulless are just some of the adjectives that are being applied to the movie.   Powerful, harrowing, magnetic are some of the adjectives applied to the book.

So here are my thoughts:  I don’t plan to see the movie.  I won’t recommend the book to my husband, who has limited patience for evil.  You might like it, though. It may have been painful to read, but it was fascinating.  Lionel Shriver has six previous novels and I’ll definitely be checking them out.