Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scandinavian Thrillers/Mysteries:'Sup With Them?

The Books/Their Authors: Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series, Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series.

The Dealio: There is a very basic template to all of these, with slight departures in each. This whole, dark thaang started with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Initially, I was too chicken to read this one. Peeps immediately began weighing in on what they felt was a strong anti-woman vibe. Then there were the movies to contend with: first the reality of the Swedish movies, then the promise of an American remake (of, at least, the first). Just couldn't stand it any more. I had to see what all the chatter was about.
And, I liked them. Mostly. And with reservations. I have seen the original movies and now plan to see TGWTDT. When I finished the Millennium Trilogy, I began casting about for something similar. When someone recommended Kurt Wallander, I started off on a new pathway, through a coupla Henning Mankell's novels, propelled, no doubt, by both the sheer number of them, and the fact that the Beeb had produced some movies based upon- and starring Kenneth Branaugh as Wallander. Liked those pretty well, too.
When an article ran in EW or Newsweek or some such, about Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole mysteries, I selected one, and steamed on, full speed ahead.
Being not the quickest study in the fantiverse, a pattern slowly began to emerge. And, even as I continue to intersperse my other reading/listening with selections from this bounty thriller exotica, I realised that I had fallen into a rut...a very dark, icy, broody, malicious rut. Mental palate cleanser, if you please! (Enter Just My Tyoe, on which, more in a later entry).

The Grading Sessions: All of these fall within 4.0 to 4.6 pengies territory. They are involving, they are full to the bursting with side plots and complexities that take years and years (and years) to unwind. There is also a thick and barbed strand of 'the lost girls' in each. The violence is uncommon and explicit. Women are placed in high position - either within law enforcement and/or the law, itself. In the case of Larsson's trilogy, as anyone who takes a news or entertainment mag, owns a TV or has been to a movie in the past ninety days knows, his Salander is both an outlaw and a computer genius. In every case, there is great attention to back story and details. And, at bottom, there is a miasma of distrust of those assigned- in one capacity or another- to protect and serve the interests of public safety. These are exciting and onvolving to read/listen to, but, at heart, they- like their heroes, are also deeply flawed and semi-tragic. Sometimes, ya just wanna put on sandals and run into the sunny beauty of a San Diego summer. So, you do.

Lessons Learned: Every hero of each of these series has got a drinking problem, marital problems, commitment problems and anger management problems. Each represents the side of truth and justice and finds both by bending- or hacking to bits- the law to their purposes. All are bitter and depressed- must be the winters, because, even when the story is set in summer, it is painted in dark and stormy and cold and threatening strokes. None of these heroes are good-looking (in fact, most of them, their creators go out of their way to emphasise, are downright homely). They are huge, muscle and/or fat bound creations, and yet...are absolutely irresistible to any/all women with whom they come in contact. Incredible. And then, there is the graphic, high-grade violence. Usually, this is focused on the females in the books, but our heroes also come in for their own extended kabuki with the staffs of many ERs.
So, what is my lesson? Well, it's very basic, actually: if you pen the story, you get to make even the least likely folk come out champion of all they survey and possessing all the perks/qualities you wish you, yourself, had. But do not.
Also this- do not listen to this stuff via audio book, in your car, alone, while driving home from a distant place. Especially when you are enjoying your very own dark and stormy night. That's a killer.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ides Of March

The Flick: The Ides Of March

The Peeps: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, etc.

The Dealio: Candidate Morris (Clooney)- war hero, Democrat, sitting guv, family man, solid citizen who can reach the young, etc, etc- is locked into a primary battle in the state of Ohio and is pulling out all the stops in order to win the coveted berth at 1600 PA Ave. One of the very best tricks he has up his sleeves is whip-smart, young, incisive gunslinger and press-tamer Steven Myers (Gosling, with his patented dead-eyed stare and thin-lipped disapproval ratcheted way up to 11). Just when it seems the two candidates are deadlocked, the two campaign managers on opposite sides of this battle, both make a play for Steven. And the house of cards begins to disassemble. What happens next is hardly original, although Clooney- who also directed and co-wrote the piece- leaves the final denouement up for grabs (don't you just hate it when Probst says that every week?).

The Grading Session: 4 pengies out of 5. A little too long, a few too many cliches, but an engaging and involving movie, this film could stand a little off the sides and neaten up the back. So to speak. The frozen, gimlet-eyed demeanor of Gosling's Steven is becoming a bit too standard- I got bushels of it in Drive- and would welcome a change-up with a bit more of a look inside the man betrayed. Or betraying?

Lessons Learned: Kinda cliches in their own right: never trust a politician. Especially one who says, 'Don't vote for me, in fact.' This is the guy who would outfit his parents with cement overshoes for 10 electoral votes. Then call himself a lone orphan in order to scoop up the remaining EVs. Then, too, this: the press is not your friend. Don't ever make the mistake of confusing avidity for the story with interest in you and your well-being. A reporter is as interested in your well-being as you are in his/hers. Lastly this: if you think you will be left standing, unharmed, when you bring down everything around you, consider, long and hard, the destructive nature of the earthquake. And think again about what is about to be destroyed.

Notable quotables: To Steven:'We are not friends. We are on opposite sides of the same story. It benefits you to let me shape the news. It is in my best interest to be the first one to get my hands on the news.' (Later, the same character will ask Steven, 'Aren't we friends any more?' To which he responds, 'You are my best friend.')
'There is nothing, nothing, I value more than loyalty. I thought you knew that about me.' (Said, by one campaign manager, to justify betraying someone and throwing that person to the wolves).