David Mamet wrote and directed this quirky marital arts film. I’ve been a huge fan of Mamet’s work for decades so it’s hard for me to say this film sucks. Mamet is a tricky writer (check out the convoluted plot of The Spanish Prisoner) and there are plenty of twists and turns in Redbelt but the end result is a dud. Marital artist Mike Terry, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, ends up in murky conspiracies with just about every character in this film. Mamet’s plot held my interest, but I kept feeling like things were spinning out of control. Just when I thought Mamet would resolve all the mysteries, he ends the film with a perplexing and corny flourish. Emily Mortimer plays a twitchy lawyer to perfection. Tim Allen, Joe Montegna, Ricky Jay, and the rest of the cast are excellent. But the final product is much less than all the high quality parts. GRADE: C
Maureen Corrigan, book reviewer for NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, gave the Moe Prager mystery series a rave review. I decided to give Reed Farrel Coleman’s work a try by reading the first book in the series, Walking the Perfect Square. Moe Prager is a former New York City policeman who has retired because of a knee injury. He’s asked by a friend to look into the case of a missing son of another cop. Moe conducts his investigation, gets his car torched, and makes a fatal mistake. My problem with the book is that it is incredibly talky. Too much blah, blah, blah. GRADE: C+
Trollope’s Phineas Finn explores two grand subjects: politics and love. Our hero, Phineas, is the son of an Irish doctor. He trains as a lawyer, but yearns for a life in politics. And, surprisingly, an opening makes itself available and Phineas finds himself in Parliament at the age of 25. Trollope, knowledgeable in the ways politics is played, gives Phineas plenty of action with the various political factions. Intertwined in the political narrative, is Phineas’ love-life. There are several beautiful, appealing women in Phineas’ life: Lady Laura, who loves Phineas but marries the wealthy, but stoic Mr. Kennedy. There’s flighty but rich Violet Effingham, who men fight duels over. Then, there’s the mysterious and cunning widow Madame Goesler with her fabulous fortune. Phineas makes youthful mistakes and nearly comes to ruination, but Trollope has several cards up his sleeve to keep the plot twisting and turning until the final page. This is the second of the Palliser novels. I reviewed the first book in the series, Can You Forgive Her? a few weeks ago. Both books are rich in detail and subtle in substance. I was sorry to see this 700 page book end.
This B-movie stars Dana Andrews as a con man, Linda Darnell as the “fallen angel” who never met a man she didn’t like, and Alice Faye as the “good girl” who is the straw that mixes this dark concoction. Charles Bickford plays a menacing investigator. Otto Preminger directed this capable cast. Within its limitations, this film is worth a look. GRADE: B
It’s funny how the Internet works. I had listened to Till Fellner’s wonderful Bach: Inventions & French Suite V (reviewed yesterday) and noticed that Fellner also recorded Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. So I checked AMAZON and I found a number of postings saying the best version of Bach’s great work was done by Edward Aldwell. So, of course, I had to buy Aldwell’s set with the pouty cover. Only Book II was available since Nonesuch Records discontinued Aldwell’s Book I (which sells for $999 used on AMAZON!). After listening to Aldwell’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, I’d have to say it’s good, but something is missing. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s not radical like Gould or dry like Schiff or insouciant like Angela Hewitt. Maybe it’s a bit too distant for my taste. I’m going to try Fellner’s version some day soon, but not right away. Some of you must think this is becoming a Bach blog. I’ve just been in a Bach mood lately. But, fear not. I’ll be reviewing a book or DVD tomorrow. GRADE: B+
The NY TIMES raved about this CD so of course I bought it. Till Fellner takes some parts of these pieces at breakneck speed. But at all times, Fellner has things under control. This is the best recording I’ve heard of “Inventions” and “French Suite V.” The recorded sound is pristine. If you love Bach, you’ll love this CD. GRADE: A-
Daniel Silva’s The Messenger is working the same side of the street as Angels & Demons. There’s an attack on the Vatican, a nifty caper to insert an agent into a terrorist network, and best of all, plenty of art history. To lure a key figure of the terrorist network who’s an art collector, the Good Guys find a previously unknown Van Gogh painting as bait. To add to the allure, a beautiful art historian is placed in the caper to further distract the evil art collector. Silva works in broad strokes. His hero is both an expert in art restoration and killing. Most of the characters are cardboard. But the action is swift and the insights into the machinations of the art world prove intriguing. This is a perfect beach book. GRADE: B
Are two stars better than one? The producers of TERMINATOR SALVATION must have thought so because they have Christian Bale as John Connor, leader of the human Resistance to the machines that are hell-bent on genocide, and Sam Worthington (who looks a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger) as a cyborg. Both actors have their strengths, but I wish the plot concentrated on one or the other. That being said, I found a lot to like in TERMINATOR SALVATION. Several of the action sequences are eye-popping. The Terminators come in more deadly varieties. And the battles of puny humans against the seeming invincible machines is always compelling. Get your popcorn and enjoy! GRADE: B
C. M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril are important figures in Science Fiction history. Kornbluth teamed up with Fredrick Pohl to write SF classics like The Space Merchants and Gladiator at Law. Judith Merril edited the ground-breaking YEAR’S BEST SF series and help to kick off the New Wave which brought adult themes to Science Fictionland. Gunner Cade was published in 1952. It’s the story of a stagnant society 10,000 years in the future where science has been banned. Stasis is the operating principle of the unchanging society. Gunner Cade, part of the warrior sect, gets embroiled in a conspiracy with a feisty, mysterious woman. Yes, it’s outlandish. But it’s fun to guess which parts of the book Kornbluth wrote and which parts Merril wrote. I think Kornbluth wrote the action sequences and Merril wrote all the scenes where a woman is present. If you’re in the mood for an empire-toppling SF adventure, Gunner Cade fits the bill.