Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

is a bit of a throwback, the sort of noir film we don't get much these days.  Based on the Lawrence Block novel of the same name and featuring Liam Neeson as Block's ex-cop, Matt Scudder, the movie captures a great deal of the feel of the Scudder novels.  That fact was one of the reasons I quite enjoyed the movie, but it also means this is a dark movie with moments of graphic violence, even brutality. 

Neeson is a noir-film protagonist in the classic mold, a man who has done bad things and who knows he will do them again, but one who tries to play by his rules in a world that often appears to have no rules. Some critics have faulted the movie for staying within its genre and for having some of the faults of that genre, but I disagree that this is a problem.  The film is a noir detective story, and if you like those, as I do, that's a fine thing indeed. 

The world's lack of rules is most present in the bad guys, who are very, very bad indeed.  I warned that the movie contains brutal moments, and the bad guys deliver them in moments that are upsetting indeed.

Some critics, such as Allison Willmore, have criticized the film for using women only as meat.  They're right.  The movie's greatest weakness lies in its depiction of women as either objects of perfection glimpsed in beautiful moments or, more commonly, as victims, meat for the villain butchers.  The opening sequence is the most disturbing instance of this behavior, but it's not the only one.  It feels as if the filmmakers were trying to set the 1999-based movie in an even earlier time and striving for a retro feel, a time when many, many movies treated women that way (well, many still do, but that's another essay), but the result is uncomfortable by today's standards. I wish the filmmakers had dealt with women rather differently, something I believe would be possible without altering the movie in any fundamental way.

In the end, as is my wont, I enjoyed A Walk Among the Tombstones despite this flaw and the film's other weaknesses, but I remain a bit uncomfortable with that enjoyment.  I recommend it only with this reservation and the warnings above.

Friday, September 19, 2014

5 movies I'd like to see remade with Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson has not let age stop him from becoming one of the hottest action stars in Hollywood.  His odd, hulking presence combined with an ability to act, something many action stars lack, has let him become a credible hero even though he's 62 years old.  He's starring in one of the hot movies opening this weekend, A Walk Among the Tombstones.  It's his second live-action star turn this year

And I, like many of my friends, can't get enough of him in these roles.

Thinking about this topic led me to wonder just what it would be like to see Neeson take on the challenge of remaking some classic action films.  Here are five (of the many such films) I'd like to see.

  1. First Blood: Stallone was fine as Rambo and turned the role into a franchise, but imagine the story with Neeson being escorted out of town.  He wouldn't need a tank top or a special knife; he could do it all without ever taking off his trench coat.
  2. Road House: Patrick Swayze was always too small for this role, and he spent too much time showing us his chest.  Neeson would loom over everyone else and be the ultimate club cooler. 
  3. Mad Max: Mel Gibson, back when his head could still fit in a normal-size building, drove his way through the desolate outback and into our hearts in this post-apocalyptic gem.  Neeson could do the whole movie on foot. 
  4. The Terminator:  Need I say more?  We sure as hell would believe Neeson when he said he'd be back.
  5. Die Hard:  Yeah, I know that Bruce Willis is three years younger than Liam Neeson, but so what?  The last Die Hard saga proved Willis can't keep this franchise going any longer.  Give Liam a chance.  He can bring it back.  Liam has particular skills.
Any studio that doubts Neeson's ability to resuscitate any of these films can easily buy an insurance policy:  Cast The Rock (oh, excuse me: Dwayne Johnson) as the bad guy opposite Neeson.  Pure box-office gold. 

Imagine the all-night Liamathon you could have with this list!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A magazine you need to buy

is the latest issue of Mission at Tenth

Click the image to see a larger version.

The reason is simple:  It is the first chance to see one of Sarah's stories in print.  She is a superb writer, and you will be glad later, when she is famous, that you bought this first appearance of a story of hers in print.

Having said that, I must confess that these folks don't make it easy to buy the issue--but try anyway!

In a shout out to Sarah, here's a song I still love and one she may remember from a long time ago.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"I'm in no hurry"

is a phrase I almost never say.  I'm always in a hurry, always behind on projects, always struggling to accomplish everything I want to do that day, always pushing myself until I fall into bed, exhausted, only to start all over again the next day.

Except at the beach.  Except when I was on sabbatical.  Except for a few hours on a few days recently in London, when I once said it as I made room in a take-out food line for a mother who was clearly rushing to feed her kids and get to their next appointment. 

As the words rolled out of my mouth, I realized that I am often at my happiest, and certainly my most relaxed, in the situations when I am indeed in no hurry. 

The lesson here is obvious. 

Less obvious, though, is how to bring that lesson into practice and still do all I want to do, do my day job and write, keep all my commitments and still enjoy private time--strive to maintain all the balances that are part of almost all my days.

I've decided to start by trying to notice all those moments when I don't have to hurry, whenever and wherever they occur, and then to savor them, luxuriate in them, for however long they last.

I don't know that I'll succeed, but I believe it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Oh, yes, there is great British food: In praise of The Ledbury

In my blog post from London on August 11, I promised to tell you about a spectacular dinner I enjoyed that evening.  Now, more than a month later, I'm finally going to deliver on that promise.

As this post's title states, the meal was at The Ledbury, a wonderful establishment that chef Brett Graham has led to the number 10 spot in the 2014 ranking of the world's 50 best restaurants.  Using almost entirely ingredients he sources in the U.K, and often riffing on traditional British dishes, Graham and his team are creating amazingly delicious meals and delighting diners from all over the world.

Including this one.  The meal that night looked relatively simple on paper:

Click an image to see a larger version.

I mean, how exciting can a salad of cold green beans and almonds be, right?

Wrong.  It was more delicious than I could have imagined from the description.

Of course, the fact that the almonds were both powdered and chunked helped, and the presence of cold grated foie gras gave the dish a lovely umami mouth feel, and the peach was a delicious touch, but the green beans themselves were simply wonderful, fresh and crisp and full of flavor. 

The salad didn't even show up, though, until after some snacks.

Wow, were they both beautiful in presentation and tantalizing in flavor.

Every single course delivered perfect flavors and a variety of textures, and every single one dispelled any thoughts that British cuisine was doomed to be as bad as the jokes so many make about it.

I'm not going to show photos of all the courses--it is late--but do check out this final savory course, the Berkshire Muntjac, a variety of venison, with veggies and smoked bone marrow sitting like butter atop one chunk of meat.

The venison was so tender and so flavorful that I was certain they had cooked it sous vide.  No, they told me, they simply roasted it.  Amazing.

Getting into The Ledbury is not always easy, and the meal is pricey, but it is absolutely worth the time and cost if you can afford both.  My dinner there ranks among the best meals I have ever had.

I can't wait to go back.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Drop

I went to see this movie for one reason:  Dennis Lehane.  I'm a big fan of his novels, I've enjoyed the films made from his works, and this movie ultimately comes from a short story of his.  Once again, he did not disappoint. 

The script firmly grounds you in Brooklyn and the lives of its characters, none of whom are living high, but all of whom are getting by.  I don't want to spoil any of the plot, so let me say simply that Lehane builds the story carefully, inevitably, so that all that happens in the ending is both natural and disturbing. 

Tom Hardy plays the lead, Bob, a muted man living a muted life.  He shows his emotions rarely and then only in small ways, with tiny, quick facial movements.  Noomi Rapace's Nadia is a version of a character she's played before, the damaged woman drawn to damaged men.  James Gandolfini portrays a man far from his famous Tony Soprano, a bar owner whose bar is barely his.  These three and everyone else in the cast turn in strong performances.

The movie is definitely not for everyone.  Its pace is deliberate, its tension high, and its moments of action quick and often brutal. 

It is also not without flaws.  For example, a few inconsistent character moments feel like Lehane and director Michael Roskam bowing a bit to the demands of Hollywood. 

On balance, though, it's one of the stronger crime films I've seen recently, and I definitely recommend it. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

was the second movie I mentioned in an earlier blog post during my visit to San Francisco last week.  I waited a bit to write this review because I wanted to think about the most succinct way to summarize the good and the bad of this film--and because a lot of movies share those traits.  In the end, I agreed that the way Kyle had described it pretty much was as tight as it could be:

The good:  More of the same.
The bad:  Not as well done.

So, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed its predecessor, 2005's Sin City

This summary also explains exactly why Hollywood keeps churning out sequels:  they may not make as much money as their predecessors, but they are reliable moneymakers--for a while--because audiences know just what to expect to get from them. 

Some sequels, of course, do not fall victim to this structure.  Most that do not, though, advance the plot arc of a sequence of films, with characters growing and changing in each movie.  That sense of change, in both plot and characters, is what makes the best series of all types work well (and what I strive to do in my own series of novels).  This second Sin City installment paid lip service to that goal, but it didn't really hit the mark. 

If you liked the first one, odds are that you'll have a good time at this one--but not as good a time as you had at the first.  If you're curious to see how this highly stylized film plays out, you'll also want to check out this film.

On the other hand, if you didn't like the first, or if the trailer looks dumb to you, or if you're not in the mood for over-the-top dialog and bloody violence, give this sequel a pass.


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