Review: The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

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I have never read a Lawrence Block book and decided it was time to jump into the world of Block.  The Sins of the Fathers came up on my Nook one day for $0.99, it was a sign, time to start reading Block.  This is the book I always wanted to start with because the is the first in a series around the character Matthew Scudder.  This book was first published in 1976 and Scudder has been part of popular culture ever since, well maybe not popular culture but with the noir fanbase for sure.  17 books later and Scudder is still going strong.   Scudder has even appeared in two movies, 8 Million Ways to Die based on the 5th book in the series and A Walk Among the Tombstones based on the 10th book in the series.  I plan on watching Tombstone sometime soon and giving a review on this site.  I also plan to read the rest of these books and review them as I go.

Block is an amazing writer who has written over 100 books in his career and still going strong!  I look foreword to reading more from Block in the near future.

Scudder as a character is not all that original, Ex-cop who has a problem with alcohol and becomes a private detective.  Well Scudder isn’t exactly a private dick, he just does favors and gets tipped for those favors, who needs to get a licence and report income to the tax man.  He’s a hardboiled detective that has lost his family and has seen and done things that have scared him for life.  Though the profile of Scudder isn’t an original idea, he is well crafted and I love him.

This first story is about a young lady that was brutally murdered, and her male roommate is found outside the building covered in her blood, half-dressed and screaming obscenities.  The male roommate is later found in his cell, dead from hanging himself.  It’s an open and shut case as far as the police are concerned.

The parents of our dead young lady have lost track of their daughter and didn’t even know she was living in New York for sure. With over 3 years of no communication with their daughter, they want to know what she was doing in that time period and turn to Scudder for help.

This book shows Scudder as a fairly religious man, and lent itself nicely to this story. I hope this aspect is continued throughout this series.

Scudder isn’t investigation a murder mystery here, he is looking into this girls history and takes us along for the ride.  We have some dark stuff here, it is a very gritty and twisted adventure that you will enjoy.

Review: Calvary

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Calvary opens in a confessional as the confessor tells the priest he is going to kill him in one week.  The confessor tells him he was raped by priests for 5 years and now he is going to get payback.  Our protagonist is not a rapist, he is a good priest, and that is why he is being targeted.  Our unknown villain wants to kill a good priest, because killing a bad priest would not bring as much attention.  Our good priest is played by Brandon Gleeson who fits this part well.  We follow him through out his week as he talks to his parishioners in a small Irish town. Our hero goes through many trial and tribulations through out this week, all these make him question his own beliefs as evil seems to close in on him.

The supporting cast is an eclectic collection of people.  Along the week he engages with all these people, each losing their own way in the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons.  I would love to go into these, but I think that will take away from this film.  All I will say is Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Marie-Josée Croze and Aidan Gillen play four of the best supporting characters.  This covers some dark material, many of which would have to be covered when dealing with the Catholic Church, but it also shows how between the Church and the economy, small town Ireland is in a bad place.  This really delves into what is good and right and what is wrong and evil, as well as what is a sin in today’s world.  John Michael McDonagh writes and directs this film, it is his 3rd movie and I look forward to his 4th movie, War on Everyone.  War on Everyone has a great concept and a cast that includes Garrett Hedlund, Guy Pearce and Michael Peña.

I think this trailer sums it up well without spoiling too much:

This movie is something very original and I think you will enjoy it.

Re-Watching the Classics: Bullitt

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Bullitt is a movie based on the book Mute Witness by Robert L Fish.  Even though this movie is based on a book, it does not have an over whelming plot.  Luckily this movie stars the king of cool, Steve McQueen as Bullitt.  This film is definitely more style then story. The story starts out with Bullitt assigned to protect a witness, his team doesn’t do so well.  This turns Bullitt into a rogue detective, breaking some of the rules to find the people responsible.  The cars and the city of San Francisco are just as big of stars as the actors in this film. Peter Yates does a great job of making this film look interesting and real.  The editing flows well and won Frank P. Keller an Oscar.

Of course this movie is best known for its great car chase scene with McQueen in his Mustang and the bad guys running a Dodge Charger.  The scene has no music, just the sound of 2 American Big Blocks roaring through the streets.  Steve McQueen was known as a great driver and did some of his own driving in the scene.  If you’re a car nut you will love this car chase, maybe the most famous in cinema history.  I’m a Porsche guy so I personally love seeing Jacqueline Bisset drive McQueen down the highway in her yellow Porsche 356 Cabriolet.  For those that didn’t already know, Steve McQueen was a motorhead, he loved cars and motorbikes.  He owned many interesting vehicles, and Porsches where a big part of that collection.

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Interesting trivia on this film is McQueen was inspired by real life San Francisco Detective Dave Toschi for his character.  Toschi is most famous for being the lead detective on the Zodiac Killer Case.  He was portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in David Fincher’s Zodiac(We will review this movie in the future).  He was also the inspiration for Dirty Harry, one of Clint Eastwood’s most famous characters.

Besides McQueen, Bisset who plays Cathy, Bullitt’s girlfriend also stars.  I do wish she had more screen time in this movie, she is a very minor sub-plot.  We also see Robert Vaughn as a possible corrupt politician.  Some of the supporting cast highlights are Norman Fell as the police captain and my favorite, Robert Duvall as a taxi driver.

Bullitt is required viewing for noir buffs, car buffs, and movie buffs in general.

Review: Backstrom: He Who Kills the Dragon, Book vs Television

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I was given a copy of this book from Goodreads and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard publishing in exchange for this review. I entered to get this book, because I saw the first few episodes of the Fox Television series by the same name starring Rain Wilson.  Backstrom is the main character of author Leif GW Persson.  Persson was a professor of Criminology at the Swedish National Police Board from 1992 to 2012.  This may give him an edge on how things work from the inside of the police force.  This is interesting to me, I thought this book was OK, but it was 360 pages long to tell a story that I would think one of the current noir masters could have told in 200 to 250 pages.  I guess I would rather have a great story that is well written, rather than all the details of how the police have to operate.  The other problem with this book could be a culture issue.  Since this was originally written in Swedish and maybe it looses something when translated.  I’m not saying this book is a bad book, and I can see a lot of people who tend toward the more real and procedural type books will like this.

So how does this compare to the T.V. series?  There is not much the same between the two.  The similarities are few, first is the main character, Backstrom himself.  Backstrom is an overweight, out of shape, alcoholic, that tends to be a racist and sexist.  He is forced by his doctors to start changing his life or he isn’t going to live very long.  There is also a character named Nadia too.

Now the multiple differences, these are the ones I think would take away from a fans experience of either the T.V. series or the book series. Only the one book is available in the U.S.A. right now, and it is the second book in the series.  This series only has 3 books so far, so I don’t know why this is the one they published first.  There are a few references in this book that I assume is referring to the first book.  I bring this up because maybe some of the characters I really like in the TV series are missing in this book, but may be in the other two.  Back to our main character, Backstrom, though physically he seems about the same, but on the TV series he is a brilliant detective that can get into the heads of his suspects and figure out how and why they did the crime.  Because he is so brilliant the rest of the team lives with his short comings.  It seems in the book, he is more lucky than good.  He becomes a media darling, more because he is in the right spots at the right times, and his team under him is very skilled and he steals their credit.  This difference along makes the two very different in tone and feel.

The TV series takes place in Portland where the books take place in Sweden, that of course will give you a different feel.  The characters are very diverse in both book and series, but only one is the same, Nadia.  In the book Nadia is a character that understands Backstrom, she is an overweight Russian that works on Backstrom’s team, on the series she is a gorgeous blond that is a computer specialist played by Beatrice Rosen.  Over all I like the series characters as they develop over the course of time. Nicole Gravely played by Genevieve Angelson is the young detective that goes by the book, she was my favorite character in the first few episodes.  John Almond played by Dennis Haysbert is interesting as he is a pastor of a small church on the weekend and has conflict within his professional life because of his beliefs.  Thomas Dekker plays Valentine, Backstrom’s roommate and not always legit antique dealer.  We got other supporting characters like Backstrom’s ex played by Sarah Chalke.  I do wish the TV series would do 4-5 episode story arcs rather than one and done episode cases.  I wasn’t sure if I really liked the TV series at first, I will make a final verdict after the full season.  I seem to be liking it more and more each episode.

The only thing I really miss from the book that isn’t in the TV show is Annika Carlsson.  She is a bi-sexual that Backstrom warms to throughout the book.  I would like to see more of this character, but maybe not enough to read anymore of the books.

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In this battle I’m going to take the TV series over the book.  If you only watched the first few episodes to make your decision, you may want to watch a few more and see if it grows on you like it is me.

Review: Predestination

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Predestination is a SciFi Neo-Noir from The Spierig Brothers.  The brothers don’t turn out movies to fast, but they make good films.  Their first film was Undead, a zombie comedy, maybe a little ahead of its time.  Then they waited 6 years to do the very unique neo noir take on vampires in Daybreakers.  Then they waited another 5 years to release Predestination.  I look forward to seeing more from these guys, I just hope I don’t have to wait another 5 years.  The source material for this film is from my favorite science fiction author of all time, Robert A. Heinlein.  Heinlein has written some amazing novels in his career, they really make you think about the world you’re in, based on a world he created.  While watching this you will see a few Heinlein Easter Eggs in the film.  If you have not read Heinlein, please do not base your opinion of his work from the movie Starship Troopers. His story “All You Zombies” is an amazing plot for this film.  I have not read this short story yet, but will be hunting it down to read it as soon as possible.

I purposely did not read any reviews of this movie so I could watch it fresh and without spoilers.  As always I will not post any spoilers in this review so you can enjoy it fresh as well.  This is a movie about time travel, you can see influences from other great neo noir films with time travel, like 12 Monkeys and Looper.  The filming style in some parts of the movie reminded me of Dark City (another movie influenced heavily by Heinlein’s work).

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Though this may remind me of some of the best science fiction noir films of the past, it is something uniquely its own.

This movie has two great stars that have amazing performances in this.  Ethan Hawke is our big name star.  I got to say Hawke has one of the best track records so far this century!  He hasn’t been in a big Hollywood movie, probably since the mid 90’s.  Besides the horrible Selena Gomez vehicle, The Getaway, he has made nothing but above average to mind blowingly great smaller films.  Our other outstanding performance and really the one that steals the show is by Sarah Snook.  I have not seen Snook in anything else yet, but look forward to seeing this rising star in more movies. Noah Taylor plays a smaller role but a very pivotal one.

I seen an interview with Hawke about this film and he says something to the effect that you will not understand this film on the first viewing.  I have only watched this once, but Predestination is a film where, I think, the more you watch it the more little bits of information you pick up on and a film that maybe even better the second and third time you see it.

I highly recommend Predestination if you like science fiction mixed in with your noir.  A sure thing to be a cult classic.

Review: A Scanner Darkly: Movie versus Book

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Scanner Darkly is a book by Philip K. Dick, a SciFi legend in literature.  Dick may be one of the earliest writers to combine the science fiction genre with noir style.  If you are not familiar with Dick as an author you are familiar with his work.  His most famous work is probably “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” but you will recognize its big screen neo-noir adoption “Blade Runner.”  I hope to review both that movie and book on this blog at a later time.  Scanner Darkly may be less science fiction and more noir then his other works.  It is also his most personal and autobiographical book.  This book may disguise itself in a fictional world, but it is very close to Dick’s personal life under the influence of drugs.  Him and his friends are paranoid of everything and don’t know who to trust in their everyday lives. Substance D is the drug in the world of Scanner Darkly and our protagonist Bob Arctor is an undercover cop in this world.  This book, written in 1977 won many awards in the science fiction literary world.

I watched this movie back when it came out, recently read the book and then re-watched the movie to compare the two.  I can see why most thought this book would not be film-able.  The scramble suits would have been my main concern if I was a fan of this book in the 70’s and found out someone was going to try to put it to film.

Then enters one of the best directors in modern film, Richard Linklater.  Though Linklater doesn’t typically do much noir type films, he has made some of the best independent films of the last 25 years.  Linklater takes some risks, but I really liked the final product.  The biggest one is taking one of the biggest, most talented casts around, shots the film with them over the course of 23 days, then spends 18 months animating it.  This gives the film a very cool look, almost in the way black and white transformed the real world in the classic era of film-noir the animation transforms the modern world of southern California.

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The cast of this doesn’t get much better.  Robert Downey Jr. may be the biggest star in this film, but when it was made he was still doing little movies while he worked through his own drug issues.  This is great casting and if you like Downey you will like him in this part.  Our lead is played by Keanu Reeves, playing the undercover cop that maybe to undercover for his own good.  He is in love with Donna, played by Winona Ryder, unfortunately she may not feel the same way. Woody Harrelson plays a friend of Bob, that is also addicted to substance D.  Rory Cochrane, a Linklater favorite also plays a key role.

So should you read the book or watch the movie?  I will say if I had to choose one, I would go with the movie.  The book and movie are both great and if you can, I would look at reading the book and then watching the movie.  This is an interesting take on the underground drug world of the 1970’s, and a neo-noir classic.