TV Shows »Top of the Lake

topofthelake by Jane Campion, on Sundance and Netflix

I am usually hesitant to recommend a show after seeing one episode, but I was so taken with Top of the Lake, I have to share. I’ve long been an advocate for Jane Campion’s other mystery, the unloved and much more explicit In the Cut. Here the master of mood takes us to another world that is at once exotic and strange but is never trite or unbelievable

The series begins with an angry young girl walking into a freezing lake. We soon learn that she is pregnant and visiting Detective Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) becomes involved in the case. The young girl’s father is a dangerous and compelling man that lives in the woods surrounded by equally dangerous family and guard dogs. Near his compound a caravan of damaged women seeking the guidance of enigmatic GJ (a silver haired androgynous Holly Hunter) have come to escape their demons.

It’s easy to compare to shows with similar premises – I’ve read that it’s The Killing meets Twin Peaks, but that denies the unique ambiance of the show which is incomparable and feels like you’re watching a complex novel.

Here I truly hope the series is as engaging, fascinating, and haunting as the first episode. All are available to watch on Netflix. I kind of can’t wait for tonight when the kids are asleep and I can watch more.


See more: TV Shows

Posted on June 26, 2013

Movies,Spend a Couple Minutes »Rear Window

directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1954)

Some of my absolute favorite movies have never been recommended here because:

A. I assume everyone has already seen them and

B. They’re such known classics that there’s not much left to say except “It’s awesome”.

But I am recommending Rear Window regardless because no one needs me to say much anyways and I am always surprised at how few people have seen what I think are major classic films.

Hey, let’s make a week of it – I’ll call it my Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon.

And if you are already a fan of Rear Window and don’t need me telling you to watch it, check out this stunning time lapse video of the amazing set piece.

See more: Movies,Spend a Couple Minutes

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on April 4, 2012

Books »A Sight for Sore Eyes

by Ruth Rendell (1998)

So, it’s not exactly like I had A is for Alibi sticking out of my back pocket, but even I know reading mass market paper back women’s mysteries with titles like A Sight for Sore Eyes and the author’s name printed in gold is not “cool”. But! When it’s as compelling and unexpected as this Ruth Randell thriller, it sure is pleasurable.

Beach reading time is upon us and if you’re tired of predictable master mind serial killers and tough but gorgeous women detectives, this odd tale of coincidence and murder will be refreshing.

While the psychology might be a tad simplified, Rendell does take us into the minds of her characters, even the most evil ones and gives us a very vivid picture of them and their surroundings. Even a minor character, like a nasty shop owner or a noisy neighbor feel like real people rather than contrived mystery novel plot elements.

As for the main protagonists, you have a beautiful teen whose youth was shattered by her mother’s murder and whose adolescence is marred by an insanely over protective step mother; you also have a vain former hippie living in a London mansion, and finally a psychopath young man who never knew any form of love as a child who despises humanity as much as he praises and adores beautiful objects.

All three lives intertwine in a way I thought would be rote and predictable but was pleasantly surprised to find it stranger, more unusual and almost grimly humorous.

I don’t know too much about author Rendell but she is highly praised among her peers and I plan to look to her again next time I’m in beach reading mode.

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on May 4, 2011

TV Shows »Sherlock

on DVD

While no one, in my mind, can top Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, I am happy to report that the man with the most British name, Benedict Cumberbatch (who you may remember from The Last Enemy) makes a splendid modern sleuth in the new Sherlock series.

The Office’s Martin Freeman adds his usual charm and is a nice balance to Sherlock’s acerbic intensity. The first episode is the strongest, maybe because it’s the least silly. Circus performers and mastermind games dominate the other episodes which is in keeping with the original material, and fun in its way, but the real success of the show are the characters more than the plots.

That’s all the good news. Now for the bad:

I am used to BBC airing only six episodes a season but this one has only three… and they still felt the need to divide the season between two discs?! My second qualm is with the arch enemy Moriarty. Where the rest of the cast is pitch perfect (including co-creator and League of Gentlemen alum Mark Gatiss as brother Mycroft) this one is just plain odd and actually cringe inducing. Once you see his final reveal and big evil speech you’ll agree – this is not so much a man to be feared but one you would do anything to avoid at a party.

Still, I welcome this new adaptation and am excited for more.

See more: TV Shows

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on March 28, 2011

Movies »Femme Fatale

directed by Brian De Palma (2002)

While I have to admit on second viewing, Femme Fatale is far less clever and more cheesy than I remember, it’s still a great noirish guilty pleasure that marked Brian De Palma’s return to over the top form – mirroring some of my favorites of his career: the Hitchcock inspired Sisters, Blow Out, and the best, Body Double.

It’s hard not to have a soft spot for a film that opens with an epic heist set to classical music involving a bra made of diamonds and lesbian bathroom stall groping. Or maybe not… It was a box office bomb and most people seem to hate this movie.

But despite porny dialogue, bad acting (Romijn playing French speaking English, whew!), and a ludacris, off the rails plot about fate and a paparazzo – or maybe because of all that, I have loads of fun watching.

Just don’t take it too seriously or have lofty expectations.

See more: Movies

Posted on February 21, 2011

Books »The Lady in the Lake

by Raymond Chandler (1944)

While I know the Raymond Chandler character Philip Marlowe well from movies (and I don’t care what people say – Elliot Gould was genius), The Lady in the Lake is actually my first time reading one of the novels. Set, as expected, in the streets of LA, this one also takes us to the tranquil vacation lakes surrounding the seedy town. Of course, they turn out to be just as deadly when our private eye is sent looking, simply enough, for a rich man’s missing wife.

Nothing is ever so simple though, in a snappy noir, so murder, villains, scandal, witty dialogue, and plot twists ensue. While I guessed the major plot twist far too soon (blame a healthy education in murder mysteries), like most noirs, the plot isn’t always the star of the show, it’s the long, often punch-in-the-jaw getting there that’s fun.

Some say this is one of Chandler’s weaker efforts, which only makes me excited to read more since I quite enjoyed it. Not as enjoyable, unfortunately, is the 1947 film adaptation which features a gimmicky first person perspective (all characters address the audience with exaggerated expressions) which wears off after a couple minutes. Strangely, they made it into a “Christmas” themed movie too – my guess is hoping for box office returns during the holidays. Yes, stick to the far more nuanced and clever book – even cranky Chandler took his name off the film (and he wrote it!).

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on January 12, 2011

Movies »Klute

Directed by Alan J Paluka (1971)

Deliberate framing and pacing, rich, artistic cinematography, and an adult story that ignores the teen market, Klute is a film of it’s time – the great 1970’s, far before the music video era. Not that I dismiss everything made in the last several decades, just that there’s something distinct about a classic film like this one and though it hasn’t come to be remembered as well as some of its contemporaries, it will be worth checking out if only for our generation to grasp onto the fashions: feathered shags, midi skirts, sequins, and caftans…

Jane Fonda is Bree Daniels, a skilled prostitute trying to become an actress. She’s self-sabotaging, tough, world weary, angry, intelligent, vulnerable, mean, and kind hearted. She’s one of the most damaged characters put to screen and Fonda deserved the Academy Award she earned for her fierce portrayal. Her foil is Tom, played by Donald Sutherland (love) who is quiet, forgiving, seemingly naive and passive but proves himself to be complicated and brave. They are thrown together when Tom’s friend disappears leaving behind only a stack of obscene letters to Bree as any clue to his whereabouts.

As self appointed private detective and reluctant assistant, they traverse the sometimes opulent, often dismal seedy underground of the sex trade in New York, where Rod Schneider is deliciously seedy as a pimp. The mystery is tense at times, with almost horror movie like music and great sets for thrills, but it’s really the relationship that develops between these two unlikely lovers that is at the heart of the movie.

If you want to make an after noon of it, watch along with The Parallax View and All The President’s Men for what’s been called director Alan J Paluka’s “Paranoia Trilogy”.

Click here for the rest of Klute

See more: Movies

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on December 3, 2010

Movies »Winter’s Bone

directed by Debra Granik (2010)

Jim is a bigger fan of back woods noir author Daniel Woodrell but after seeing Winter’s Bone, the exceptionally gritty, atmospheric and unique film based on one of his novels, I may just take second look. Woodrell specializes is grim mysteries in the deep south and this particular story about a tougher than nails Ozark teen forced to look after her sick mom and siblings made its way to the big screen with tremendous dignity with haunting suspense.

What looks at first glance like Independent film award fodder: downtrodden Americans shot against grim but undeniably beautiful landscapes (the cinematography is brilliant) of a country falling apart, is much more than an outsider’s glimpse into a mostly unknown world. While I can not claim to know what the cabins and trailers of the Ozarks look like, the sets, settings and actors here feel genuine and are neither pedantically  glorified or demonized. The cast that (like almost anything of value these days) includes actors from Deadwood is superb with Jennifer Lawrence as the heroine, Ree, earning every bit of buzz and praise she’s received.

At heart, Winter’s Bone is a mystery. Ree must find her father, or perhaps the remains of him in order to keep the house he put up for bail on a recent meth arrest. The journey, that climaxes in an act of savage, cold survival, is wrought with tension as she makes her way through the rough, complex order of a dangerous society populated by the stoic, hardened, and vicious.

We were taken with the movie more than we expected. Maybe it’s so effective because Debra Granik is less interested in forcing her opinion of the characters than letting them exist within the simple but gripping plot.

See more: Movies

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on November 11, 2010

Movies »Shadow of a Doubt

directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1943)

In many ways Shadow of a Doubt is Hitchcock’s most mundane film. Compared to his more signature works, there’s not too much style in this a straight forward, less paranoid and pre-heavy psychology thriller but it’s still one of his best. Even the director himself called it his favorite American film. I love Joseph Cotten, and here he has as much charm as ever which makes the darkness of his character, Charlie even more sinister. A widow killer on the run, he is also a much loved Uncle to an all American small town family, with whom he decides to lay low with. The strong willed and lovely daughter, also named Charlie, admires him the most and feels a special bond with her dapper Uncle, but this also means she can see through his lies and slowly uncover his dirty, violent secret as much as she wished she could deny it.

One of the several writers that worked on the story before Hitchcock and his wife wrote the script was Thornton Wilder, author of Our Town who no doubt was a perfect match for the seemingly comforting small town setting. This idyllic and recognizable place is shaken by the introduction of evil. But as Uncle Charlie himself says “Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine?” – not all that America held dear at the time was as pristine as it looked. In fact, the character of Uncle Charlie was based on serial killer named Earle Nelson, a real life monster that was actually far more horrendous than his fictional counterpart.

Click here for the rest of Shadow of a Doubt

See more: Movies

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on September 12, 2010

Books »Wild Town

by Jim Thompson (1957)

Even a lesser work by Jim Thompson is great fun to read. It is with reluctance that I admit Wild Town falls into that category, especially with such a strong set up. Bugs is a life time loser, in and out of jail with a temper and a lust for women. He wanders to an oil boom town and in the employ of local rich man, Hanlon as a hotel detective. Lou Ford is the deceptively hayseed sheriff capable of great violence.

Of course, there are dames too: Hanlon’s loose young wife whose got her eye on Bugs, the seemlingly innocent hotel maid that can’t resist a strong man, and the goodhearted school teacher that seems like the image of perfection to Bugs. The characters are colorful, they just are left in one of Thompson’s most straight forward and least bleak plots.

I can’t give too much away without spoilers, but there’s a murder, blackmail, some missing money and double crossing, it’s just missing the bleak almost surrealism that brightens the best works by Thompson (see Hell of a Woman, The Killer Inside Me). Still, fans of noir could do much worse for quick and mostly satisfying summer reading.

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on September 5, 2010

Movies »Mulholland Drive

directed by David Lynch (2001)

With such a unique point of view and mind, a David Lynch project is always worthy of excitement, even if the results are extremely uneven and sometimes downright unbearable (see Inland Empire). It’s a pleasure then to revisit Mulholland Drive, even if it loses some of it’s stunning effect upon second viewing – there are just so many odd surprises first time round, it’s hard to recapture. By all means this should have been a confusing mess, and with dropped plot points, characters and strange twists, it nearly is – but somehow it all manages to work beautifully if not confoundedly.

It’s not surprising that the project was cobbled together from a pilot for a much larger television series. The fact that ABC, in a climate of prudence, rejected the pilot is a shame. While elements like the monster behind the diner, the hunk lover Billy Ray Cyrus, the cryptic cowboy, the appearance of both Lost’s Jacob and Robert Forster, the blue box, and the magic performance are all effective in the film, I’d love for all the ideas to have had a chance to flourish over time and we all would benefit from a new Twin Peaks style series to become obsessed with.

Click here for the rest of Mulholland Drive

See more: Movies

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on August 22, 2010

Books »When Gravity Fails

by George Alec Effinger (1987)

The cyberpunk novel, When Gravity Fails delivers in it’s vivid sense of place and atmosphere. It’s the 22nd century and while some technological advancements have altered life incredibly, there are still scummy, red light districts and plenty of nere do wellers to occupy it. The lived in vitality is probably due to the author’s personal experiences in the French Quarter of New Orleans that  bears no small resemblance to the novel’s setting. In this case, the area is in the ascending Middle East (which has grown past the now fractionated West as a global power) and called Budayeen. It’s gated off from the rest of the region and home to our drug addicted semi-reluctant detective protagonist Audran.

This hard boiled, glamorized macho druggie persona was part of the my only issues with the book. I read lots of hard boiled genre books with equally questionable characters and even prefer to read about a severely flawed hero than the infallible type. Still, I tend to get understandably rubbed the wrong way by such characters when the author has no hint of humorous loathing, or at least eye rolling.

The plot is straight up noir, with little to distinguish itself aside from the plenty of modified prostitutes and crime lords and fictionalized technology. The idea mind modification is interesting and leads to added plot twists. Aside from body modifications that are no mystery to our modern world, Effinger imagines people wiring their minds for full personality modules (called “moddies”) while allows for James Bond and Nero Wolfe to make unexpected appearances. “Daddies” are like add ons which allow the user to have a certain skill while installed, like speaking an unknown language.

If you’re a fan of noir and cyberpunk, When Gravity Fails is perfect summer time fodder, if you’re unsure, it’s worth a try if you don’t mind grisly stuff.

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on July 11, 2010

Style Icons: Female »Nancy Drew

Girl Sleuth

While I am sure lovers of the classic Nancy Drew series were justifiably horrified with the late 80’s redux The Nancy Drew Files. I personally devoured the first  incarnation for a time and was plenty taken with the painted covers that always featured the kind of outfits I saw high school girls wearing and some sort of generic stud boy that looked about 30 years old.

Drew, the trailblazing amateur girl sleuth who was created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate through several authors using the enduring pseudonym, Carolyn Keene, continues as a young adult all American character now being played by Emma Roberts and fighting Vampires in Japan (?).

Click here for the rest of Nancy Drew

See more: Style Icons: Female

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on June 27, 2010

Books »Clockers

by Richard Price (1992)

If you need a Wire fix, and have already read Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets as I’ve recommended, Richard Price’s Clockers should be next on your list. The novel was a huge inspiration on the television show and Price was even brought in to write for it as the shows creators were such fans. It was adapted by Spike Lee, but I’ve yet to see the resulting movie. I can say that the novel is as well written and realistically engaging as I’ve come to expect from Price and it’s more focused narrative is more satisfying even than his recent hit Lush Life.

Set on the streets of a fictional New Jersey county, Clockers follows Strike, a mid level drug dealer and Rocco, a homicide detective bent on solving a murder that he’s positive Strike is behind. Problem is, even with all signs pointing to his guilt, his hard working brother confessed.

A streetwise young kid named Tyrone, the dangerous drug boss, Rodney, Rocco’s even headed partner, a vain actor trying to get real by hanging out with detectives, and Strike’s struggling, sympathetic brother Victor fill out this character study that is sometimes dark and heavy, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes humorous, and always entertaining.

Price is becoming one of my go to writers when I want a book that’s sure to deliver (along side TC Boyle and Jack Vance).

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on May 23, 2010

Books »The Fig Eater

by Jody Shields (2000)

The Fig Eater, set in Vienna in early 1900’s, is less about the hideous crime at its center and more about creating a moody atmosphere, revealing the subtle relationships between friends and husband and wife while delving into the detective practices as well as the Gypsy superstitions of the time.

The historic detective novel is a genre made most famous by the Alienist and in the Fig Eater it works well as a framework for quite a brooding portrait of a time and place. The crime it follows is the murder of Dora, a victim based on a famous patient of Dr. Freud, who had unusual relationships with the older men in her life.

Both the unnamed Investigator and his Hungarian wife, Erzibet finds themselves desperate to unlock the mysteries of the girl’s death. He through the latest in criminalist technology and a devotion to the Enzyclopddie der Kriminalistik, the first psychological approach to crime while Erzibet follows and discovers clues through Gypsy rituals and intuitions.

In the right hands, this could be a beautiful and haunting film that in some ways could be even more effective than the book which, while nicely written and interesting, feels a tad distant.

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on April 4, 2010

Books »Nineteen Seventy Four

by David Peace (1999)

David Peace‘s Nineteen Seventy Four is both a typical and atypical serial killer drama. Typical in that it focuses on a overly creative killer who leaves behind a trail of the kind of imagery pop-pulp authors can not seem to write enough of these days; typical in that I could almost exactly envision the BBC series it would spawn (actually, as I’ll mention later, 1974 – along with the other books in the quartet – has already been made into a series which will be in theaters soon); and typical in its gritty toughness.

Yet it’s atypical in just how gritty and tough it gets. This book, filled with violent beatings and equally violent love, is one that gets your hands and mind dirty. It’s also atypical in its staccato voice, which makes the giant, convoluted web of conspiracy, corruption and madness a little side-of-the-head-whoppingly hard to follow.

There were definitely times where I had to re-read pages, lost in the pacing, the references to British pop culture of the seventies, and the slang. Not to mention a list of character names that confuse, not in a Dostoevskian way with their complexity, but in their commonality (Johns, Roberts, and Eddies abound).

The first part of a quartet (I have the other three coming in the mail), Peace’s heralded crime drama was inspired by the horrific crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper, though the child killer here is only one part of a whole cast of genuinely horrible people that litter the city. Heroes are not to be found in this world, which makes this a recommendation with a particular admonishment: this novel is not for the faint-hearted and it is not for those that want to feel good.

The theatrical release of the adaptation (starring among others, Sean Bean) comes to IFC Feb 5 but the entire series is available on DVD for region 2 players.

Click here for the rest of Nineteen Seventy Four

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on January 31, 2010

Books »The Deadly Percheron

by John Franklin Bardin (1946)

Surrealism, psychology and noir have been friends before in popular fiction (see the Hitchcock and Dali collab Spellbound, which came out around the same time) but in John Franklin Bardin’s The Deadly Percheron, it gets a little quirkier and less artful than that. Leprechauns, multiple states of amnesia, Coney Island freaks, stolen identities, giant horses and forced electric shock therapy all come into play. Is it all cohesive and believable? Of course not! But it’s a quick pleasure to read and a unique entry in the over crowded genre of pulp novels written in the forties.

Bardin was a native Ohioan turned New Yorker (as so many Ohioans tend to be) who is most known for this novel and two others (The Last of Philip Banter and Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly) though none have exactly made him a household name.

See more: Books

Be the first to leave a comment →
Posted on January 24, 2010