Saturday, October 26, 2019

Book Reviews: Guilty Minds

Guilty Minds
by Joseph Finder
This thriller novel was a good comfort read. I knew what to expect and it delivered. Joseph Finder is an author whom I'm starting to really appreciate, as previously detailed here and here. This is a later installment in a series, but it stands on its own. You don't need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one.

There are bits and pieces of back story doled out at certain places in the novel but Finder never allows this to interfere with the plot. There aren't pages and pages detailed what happened in prior books. 

The story is written in first person which is often, but not necessarily a hint that the storyteller survives. This story kept the reader up in the air about things as long as possible. So that was good. This book was just under 400 pages and a pretty quick read. 

The only time I thought the story pace slowed was in a few places where Finder demonstrated that he had done his research and then some on the relevant laws, technologies, and tactics which apply in the legal netherworld which he describes. All of that is important for a sense of realism but once or twice I caught myself wanting to get back to the next piece of excitement in the story.

Nick Heller is a Boston based private investigator/intelligence operative. He also happens to be former Special Forces. Nick makes a decent living helping people find the truth of matters, or occasionally helping people hide legal things they'd rather not have made public.

There is a slight chance that Nick might be working thru some guilt engendered by some of his actions during his military service or perhaps family guilt caused by having an amoral father imprisoned for white collar crimes. I'd have to read the other books in the series to see if that's truly the case. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Movie Reviews: Human Desire

Human Desire
directed by Fritz Lang
This film re-unites the cool as ice award winning stars of Lang's The Big Heat, Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. Unlike The Big Heat, which features an almost straightforward cast of good guys and bad guys, Human Desire is a more self-consciously noir film, perhaps even one with an understated proto-feminist stance. 

Once again, Grahame plays a woman for whom the John Lee Hooker lyric "She wiggles when she walks! She wiggle!" was likely invented but her character here is less self-assured and to my mind much more sympathetic than many of her other performances. Grahame is more than the bad girl with a sharp tongue and taste for furs that she was in The Big Heat.

If this movie were remade today it would almost certainly have a different ending and likely "corrected" sex stereotypes that would be just as cartoonish as some of the sex stereotypes of the 50s were. So it goes. This film's issues resonate today. I am amazed by how slender the cast was. Obviously I noticed this first in the women but very few men were overweight either. Sugar, fast food and massive portion sizes have warped our society, but that's another post.

Jeff Warren (Ford) is a train engineer and war vet. Back from Korea, a happy Jeff has resumed working. Jeff rents a room from his good friends Alec and Vera Simmons (Edgar Buchanan and Diane Delaire). 

Movie Reviews: The Crazies

The Crazies
directed by Breck Eisner
This is a Saturday afternoon movie in the best sense of the word. It's also a remake of a 70s movie. This 2010 film didn't waste much time with characterization or for that matter plot. 

It's a zombie film in all but name; the difference is that the infected don't always move slowly, have no desire to eat human flesh, and were not previously dead. 

The film touches on the paranoia that some people have about federal government. At the very minimum the film suggests that some of that paranoia might be justified. This film works the same side of the street as the Resident Evil film series. It has less action but is more realistic in terms of violence.

David (Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) are the sheriff and primary care doctor, respectively, of the small Iowa town of Ogden Marsh. The couple doesn't make much, but they didn't take the jobs to get rich. They're there to help people. Sometimes this means not arresting people who are hunting out of season or letting a nurse (Danielle Panabaker) take off work early to rendezvous with her boyfriend.

Baseball is a sign of spring. At a high school baseball game many townspeople are in attendance when a man armed with a shotgun walks onto the field. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall
directed by Mark Robson
We often admire heroes who refuse to compromise their principles even when faced with economic ruin or physical danger. 

We can get a thrill reading about Nat Turner or Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, people who literally spit in the face of their oppressors and decided to die rather than live unfree. But most people aren't like that. Most people will compromise to continue eating. Almost everyone will compromise to continue living. People who stand up to certain death are rare. 

No one is perfect. Even heroes make mistakes. Some heroes tried to go along to get along, merrily selling out their ideals along the way, until they reached that one choice that they can't rationalize. They then rediscover what is right. They may be morally stained, but I think they're still heroic figures.

This film is based on a book written by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, famous for his On The Waterfront screenplay. The Harder They Fall also shows the viewer an industry that is dominated by mobsters and their employees.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Movie Reviews: John Wick 3

John Wick 3
directed by Chad Stahelski
Sequels are rarely as good as the original or proceed in a way that logically grows from the original movie. John Wick 3 is an exception to that rule. The film's only negative was that the special effects created for the numerous head shots the titular character inflicts on the mostly nameless mooks trying to kill him look like video game simulations. 

That reduces some emotional intensity but that's a small quibble. This movie, which shows everybody and their brother trying to kill John Wick, reaches for but does not quite match the ferocity of the Indonesian movies The Raid and The Raid 2. It gives multiple shout outs to those films, though, both via some of the action set pieces and a cameo from an actor from those movies.

This review requires a quick recap of the first two movies. In the first film John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired assassin who formerly worked for the Russian Mafia. His wife just died. The last thing she gave him was a dog. In a particularly unfortunate sequence of events, the son of John Wick's old boss decided to steal John Wick's car. Just to be mean he also killed John Wick's dog.

Needless to say this person did not know who John Wick was. As his father explained to his sub-moronic son, John Wick was the man you send to kill the boogeyman. Mugging the Monster is never a good idea. Wick went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, eliminating every member of the organization that used to employ him. 

Movie Reviews: The Letter

The Letter
directed by William Wyler
Some people seem to believe that women can never lie about anything involving sex or that if they do it's no big deal because after all women as a group are oppressed. At the extremes some such folks express hostility towards to the concepts of innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt or an adversarial justice system. Some honestly think anyone who would defend himself too vigorously against a sexual assault charge is proving that he must have committed the crime. 

Other people have the intelligence or integrity not to go that far but point out that most rape or sexual assault charges are not deliberate lies. So some people wonder about the motives of people who become wondrously wroth over the rare proven false rape charges.

None of us are immune to bias. We believe the best of our friends, relatives and lovers. The Letter examines these biases in a 40s noir setting, one in which as normal in these films, "evil" can be a question of perspective. Although race isn't the film's emphasis it's certainly something which influences the film's settings and characters. This film is set in pre- WW2 Malaysia, in and around rubber "plantations" owned by White Americans and White Europeans. These people all live the good life, buying and selling their "plantations" among their small group. There's no war to worry about yet. 

Movie Reviews: The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come
directed by Chris Morris
After 9-11, or even before 9-11,  some people arrested and convicted of conspiracy or terrorism charges were either people guilty of much lesser crimes or were enticed, directed, financed and even ordered into criminal behavior by law enforcement, usually the FBI. 

More ominously the FBI, often with the assistance of local police departments, set up certain people to be murdered, rather than stand trial on flimsy or non-existent charges. People who are engaged in political activity that the government doesn't like can frequently find themselves in serious trouble. 

For the past six hundred years or so Europe has had more effective technology, especially military, than the rest of the world, particularly Africa and the New World. And to put it mildly, armed with superior technology, Europeans didn't treat their fellow humans with kindness and decency. The distance between European technology and that employed by certain non-European nations has shrunk and even reversed in some areas but most observers would note that Africa and the African diaspora are often still lagging behind. Why this is and what can or should be done about it is a book, not a blog post, and certainly not this movie review. But to understand this film's characters you should be aware of that history. 

There are many religiously minded Black people who believe in a past glorious period before white supremacy, want to minimize the impact of white supremacy in their current life, and have future plans to eliminate racism in toto. Whether they be Hebrew Israelites, Muslims, MOVE members, Five Percenters, or what have you, these groups are often targeted by the federal government.

Movie Reviews: Corporate Animals

Corporate Animals
directed by Patrick Brice
Demi Moore has a new book out where among other things, she discusses the childhood trauma of being pimped out by her mother, sexual assault, battles for sobriety, and relations, sexual or otherwise, with various Hollywood actors, some her husbands, some not. Yawn. Don't really care about any of that stuff. 

We all have skeletons in our closets. Some rattle a little louder than others. Presumably the book release was timed to roughly coincide with this film's release. This could and should have been a better movie. 

Unfortunately the writers and directors chose to go for the gross, the shocking and the salacious all throughout the film, instead of using it judiciously. Even though it is apparently a small budget film I didn't think it needed to look as bad as it did. I've seen first time directors on a lunchtime budget make better looking films than this.

The subject matter, the corporate workplace and its tensions, is ripe for parody and satire. This could have been another Office Space or even Price Check. Sad to say though when your idea of a funny scene includes a fat man's full frontal nudity, nothing for nothing, but you and I clearly don't share the same sense of humor.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Amber Guyger: And That I Do Not Forgive!

I had a discussion on my Facebook page which is interesting enough to add here. You may have heard that former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean in his apartment while he was sitting on his couch eating ice cream. Guyger received a ten year prison sentence.

Guyger will be eligible for parole in five years. Guyger can probably look forward to a lucrative post prison career as a Fox News contributing analyst, security consultant, and speaker at NRA events. 

Unsurprisingly, Guyger had a history of racism, some of which was revealed in ugly text messages with her lover, another police officer, as they mocked Martin Luther King, other Black police officers, and Black people in general. Given that there are Black people who have received similar or worse sentences for less heinous crimes, Guyger's relatively lenient sentence is nothing to celebrate.

Guyger might appeal her sentence. Who knows. The reason some people are happy is that it's very very very rare that white cops are ever charged and convicted of murdering a Black person. Her conviction is unusual. So good for that I guess.