The Enemy by Lee Child – Decent story and ending, but dull

The Enemy by Lee Child

 

pic1

See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5)

Pros: Decent story and satisfying ending

Cons: Had to wade through too much to get there

Lee Child’s The Enemy contains some very good stuff.  Too bad you have to wade through so much dull stuff to find the gems.

The Enemy is the eighth book in the Jack Reacher series.  Written in 2004, Child takes us back in time, to the first few weeks of 1990. The Berlin wall has just come down.  The cold war is over, and the US Army sees a drastic reduction of resources up ahead.  After all, the World is at peace, what do we need a giant army for?  (Of course, knowing what we now know, this seems unbelievably naïve, but in the beginning of 1990, the world looked very different than it does today).  In any case, a bunch of people are about to lose their jobs, and this makes some people very unhappy.

Reacher was happily on assignment in Panama when he’s suddenly called back to the States.  Immediately, he’s drawn into the investigation of a two-star general who died in a seedy motel, where he presumably met a prostitute.  Reacher notices that the general’s ever-present briefcase is missing.  Reacher comes to find out that the briefcase contained the agenda for a top-secret meeting.  Worse, the general’s wife is found dead mere hours later. 

What could that meeting’s agenda possibly contain that’s worth killing over?

This is the premise, and I admit I was intrigued. 

But The Enemy is a 500 page book containing a story that really filled 250 pages.  The rest was fluff.  Utter nonsense.  Long passages where absolutely nothing happens.  Descriptions of scenery, ridiculous conversations, and over-long thoughts in our protagonist’s head.  Just a bunch of dull stuff that you have to get through, in order to get through the story.

As for the actual story, that was pretty good.  Child does a good job of slipping us small clues along the way, but saving most of the good stuff for the end.  And the ending was quite satisfying.  At least, having made my way through those 500 pages, I wasn’t disappointed!  There’s also a subplot involving Reacher’s mother, that was very interesting, and some very good insights into Reacher’s personality that set the tone for future books in the series.

Overall, I would give The Enemy high marks for the story, but low marks for the dull writing surrounding that story.  So, we’ll have to settle on 2.5 stars.  Just below average.

 

Also by Lee Child:

Persuader
Tripwire

Slaughter by John Lutz – two thumbs down

Slaughter by John Lutz

 

pic

 

See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: Decent premise

Cons: that goes bad

Scattered. Dis-jointed. Horribly grotesque.

I’m talking about John Lutz’s Slaughter. A serial-killer novel that just didn’t work for me. This book is part of Lutz’s Frank Quinn series. As it’s the first such book I’ve read, I can’t speak to whether this book is typical of the series or not. All I know is, it was a flop.

A psychopath is terrorizing a city. Sometimes it’s a single act of murder. Other times it’s an act designed to maximize the number or casualties. But all of the scenes of have two things in common – a small man hanging around to view the damage for himself, and an ever-present theme of “taking something apart”. Sadly, most times, it’s the bodies of the deceased that are taken apart, dismembered, then grotesquely posed for the authorities to find.

Like I said, the city is in sheer terror.

All of this would be fine, as the premise of a serial-killer thriller. After all, these books are supposed to have evil perps running around like they own the town.

But this book has some problems.

First the writing style. Bouncing back and forth between the past and the present is fine. In fact, it’s a technique I enjoy. I liked that we got a glimpse of our bad guy from the past. Helping us understand how he got that way. However there were several times where the action jumps, and left be confused as to what I was reading. Past? Present? It wasn’t always clear. Possibly because there were so many characters introduced with small roles that it was hard to keep them all straight. In fact, there’s a character who appears at the end, who I know was introduced earlier in the book but I’m hard-pressed to remember how and why.

Then there was the “out of nowhere” clue that was uncovered. When I say “out of nowhere” I mean it. I went back to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Nope, I didn’t. It’s just that Lutz threw us a major curveball. Twists and surprises are fine, but they should come with a neat “ah-ha!” moment – where you remember something from earlier that ties in and makes sense.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn about the grotesque violence in this Slaughter. Granted, with a name like that, you’d expect some violence. But this book goes above and beyond in that regard.

2 thumbs down for Slaughter.

 

It was a dark and stormy 19th century

“The Woodlanders” (1997the-woodlanders

 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Rufus Sewell, Emily Woof

Cons: predictable

Although I have never read a novel by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), from having watched the screen adaptations of his novels Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Ubervilles, I was pretty much able to anticipate the plot of “The Woodlanders” (1997) from very early on. I knew that Grace Melbury (Emily Woof) was going to let her social-climbing father (Tony Haygarth) push her into a disastrous match and that the soulful, yearning Giles Winterbourne (Rufus Sewell) would have his heart broken. Grace was his childhood sweetheart (five years younger than he) and when she returned from school (finishing school?), he expected she would wed him.

Successful timber-merchant Melbury had had his only child polished for a husband of higher status. Dr. Ftizpiers (Cal Macaninch) does not exude Giles’s virility and the emotionally (not to mention sexually!) inexperienced Grace weds him more from a sense of duty to obey her father than any feelings for him.

Giles continues to ignore Marti South (Jodhi May) a young woman whose feelings for him are as strong, if not quite so obvious, as his for Grace, and everyone (even Mr. Melbury) ends up heartbroken. I think this includes the rich widow, Mrs. Charmond (Polly Walker) who seduces Dr. Fitzpiers, though she is not seen after a meeting in the woods with Grace in which Grace refuses to pressure her husband to give up his mistress, more or less cursing Mrs. Charmond “See him as much as you want — until you wish you had never known him.”

Despite her husband’s desertion of her, the new divorce laws do not allow a divorce without physical cruelty, thwarting Mr. Melbury’s efforts to undo some of the damage his social-climbing has done his only child.

Giles manages to die preserving Grace’s honor in highly melodramatic fashion. And despite the timber business, the woods and green hills endure human follies and heartbreaks.

the-woodlanders-2üSewell who often played rascals (Cold Comfort Farm, Carrington) before being typecast as a villain (A Knight’s Tale, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) can also do stolid, like the sometimes flamboyant Alan Bates in John Schleisinger’s version of “Far from the Maddening Crowd” (though that character’s patience is better rewarded than Giles’s is!). Though not a great beauty (indeed, arguable less beautiful than Sewell ca. 1997), Woof delivered a solid performance as the young woman deferential to male authority (however misguided). Macaninch was suitably feckless (and lost in a rural setting) and Haygarth was suitably insensitive to his daughter’s feelings (and, indeed, nature!).

The Woodlanders13

Production values were BBC/Masterpiece Theater solid, effectively shot by Ashley Rowe (Calender Girls, Hot Fuzz). Producer/director Phil Agland has mostly directed documentaries (including five cinematographer credits along with six other directing ones), most recently (2012) “Baka: A Cry from the Rainforest” (of Cameroon).

BTW, -The Woodlanders_ was first published in 1887, between the more famous Thomas Hardy novels The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891).

Robert Altman increased the length and perhaps upped the ante of “Persona”

3 Women (1977)

3womenposter

(3/5)

Pros: Shelly Duvall, Gerald Busby soundtrack

Cons: too long and slow and wince-inducing

I find Robert Altman’s 1977 “3 Women” excruciating watching—excruciatingly slow and wince-inducing for all three of the women. The hearty, gauche vision in yellow, Millie Lammoreaux (big-eyed, buckteethed and otherwise gawky Shelly Duvall) does not seem to me to deserve the scorn with which everyone except the new hire whom she shows the ropes and takes on as a roommate, Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek, 27 when the movie was shot and seeming even younger) treats her. Millie is pretty unflappable and/or oblivious. Pinky is naïve and more than a little oblivious. There is little indication what the pregnant painter/barmaid Willie Hart (Janice Rule) notices or feels. She does not say a single word for considerably more than an hour into the movie. Her husband, Edgar (Robert Fortier) is a horndog cad, whom Millie unwisely beds, evicting Pinky from the other bed in the bedroom.

3a

90-year-old long-time director John Cromwell (father of Jason), who also appeared in Altman’s “The Wedding”, was too old to be Pinkie’s father, so her denying it has some plausibility (perhaps her grandfather?). The 72-year-old Ruth Nelson was also (if not as much) too old to be Pinkie’s mother.

Duvall was the only set decorator listed for the film in IMDB, and presumably improvised more than a few of her lines. An uncredited Patricia Resnick (credited for story and screenplay of the later (1979) Altman debacle, “Quintet”) prepared a treatment based on a dream (complete with the two leads) dreamt by Robert Altman, who acknowledged being influenced by Bergman’s “Persona” with its famed mysterious personality switch between two women, the care-supplier and the taken-care-of woman).3Women2

Mildred (Pinky) and Millie may be aspects of a single person, though I don’t see Willie as part of a unity, except the quasi-family at the ambiguous end (I don’t see her as having absorbed the other two).

Altman himself said: “I’m trying to reach toward a picture that’s totally emotional—not narrative or intellectual—where an audience walks out and they can’t say anything about it except what they feel.” And counterpoised to Pinky absorbing Millie, there is a pair of twins at the geriatric facility where Pinky has just been hired at the start of the movie. She speculated that they switch back and forth who they are, though no personality differences between them registers. Sometimes a twin is just a twin

Gerald Busby contributed an atonal, rather ominous-sounding score. And as a pitiable worm who turns, Spacek had just played the title role in “Carrie” the previous year. Duvall was nominated for a BAFT best actress award and won best actress awards at Cannes and from the Los Angeles Critics Association, while Spacek (whom I think is the protagonist of the movie) won a best supporting actress award from the New York Film Critics for her performance. Duvall was runner-up to Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall for the New York film critics.

 

More than a chance of precipitation

The Weather Man (2005)

“Who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”       —Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

Weather-Man

 

[Rating: 3.4/5]

Pros: Phedon Papamichael ‘s cinematography

Cons: piling on frustrations

I found it very hard to get into “The Weather Man,” a 2005 box-office bomb written by Steve Conrad for Nicolas Cage, who plays the title role (with the “stage name” Dave Spritz) and directed by “Pirates of the Caribbean” money-maker Gore Verbinski (who went on to another commercial disaster that was also a critical disaster in “The Lone Ranger” in 2013). Dave is frustrated by the silliness/meaninglessness of his job as a Chicago tv weather announcer with no meteorology education. People in passing cars keep hurling fast food products at him, perhaps not liking the weather or frustrated at its unpredictability or not liking him. Analyzing it, he concludes that food is thrown at clowns and that that is how he is seen.

I find it difficult to believe that a national broadcast could be considering hiring Dave. Nicolas Cage is undeniably a movie star despite his odd look, but a national tv weatherman?

the-weather-manAside from “professional” “success,” he doesn’t really have the tribulations of Job. He alienated the wife he wants back, Noreen (Hope Davis), feels rejected by his successful novelist father (Michael Caine), and his children are somewhat troubled: his overweight daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña) whose peers call her “Camel Foot” and insists on clothes that maker her look absurd and attempting ballet with a totally unballerina figure, and Mike (Nicholas Hoult between “About a Boy” and “A Single Man”) who is in some kind of rehab for some kind of antisocial behavior. One of his counselors (Gil Bellows) wants to bed Mike, who does not respond positively.

houltDave takes over the bow and arrow he bought for Shelly, when she expressed an interest in archery, which leads to some striking images of ice-encrusted targets. In the last half hour, there are a number of beautiful images and Dave’s father makes an attempt to reach out to the son who continues to disappoint him (not for his job, but for inappropriate behaviors of various kinds).

Dave is not likable, especially when he is recognized by autograph-seekers (I think he should be flattered, not least considering what a low opinion of his “profession” he has.) Nicolas Cage is good at puzzlement and at having difficulty keeping his temper; Michael Caine is capable of underplaying. I eventually had to sympathize some with Dave, if more with Noreen, whose irritations with him seem amply justified both before and after their divorce. The acting was good all-around, the writing less so, and the cinematography of Phedon Papamichael (The Descendants, Nebraska, 3:10 to Yuma) exceptionally good.

I think “Quiz Show” with similar father-son dynamics is better, but “The Weather Man” is better than many (probably most) Nicolas Cage movies.

Bridge of Spies – You owe it to yourself to check this one out

url

Director Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies has been at the very top of “movies I want to  check out IP in the theatre” well ….just a small notch down from Star Wars. Trust me, this is almost always a very short list for mrroland, but I’m very glad I checked this one out on the big screen. And, Bridge of Spies made 141 minutes fly by FAST.

(Psst: You should also definitely check out The Visit)

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks, teaming up once again with Spielberg — which is NEVER a bad thing — stars as Jack Donavan, a Manhattan attorney “recruited” by the US Government, and encouraged by his boss, Thomas Watters, Jr. (Alan Alda) to defend a captured Cold War Soviet spy — “alleged spy”, I suppose I should say — Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Needless to say, our All-American hero isn’t too thrilled with this idea, and proceeds to become the second most unpopular person in America (after his client) when he begrudgingly takes the case….even his wife (Amy Ryan) and kids get perturbed with him, as does Watters….but you’ll have to see the movie to see how of this all plays out….

…..Donavan does develop, over time, a respect for his client as he admires how he remains true to his country and does not confess to anything at all….despite promises of a Presidential Pardon and LOTS of cash, to boot. Now, please do not misunderstand me, Donavan may respect his client, but he doesn’t agree with his ideology.

While all of our courtroom drama plays out, American pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) gets his U2 plane shot out of the sky by the Soviets and is taken prisoner and paraded around Moscow for the world to see. He was supposed to commit suicide if shot down, but obviously he didn’t. The USA and the Soviets decide to trade Abel for Powers (thanks to some previous quick thinking on Donavan’s part — hint, hint), and guess who gets enlisted to negotiate the swap?Yep, Donavan. After all, he ISN’T a US Government official.

All of this suspense, and believe me, it is VERY suspenseful, leads to a climax in East Germany that does not disappoint. We see the building of the Berlin Wall….and what happens to people who try to go over it. We also get a “wrinkle” thrown into the plot when Donavan decides — on his own — that getting Gary Powers back is NOT enough. Someone else (not saying who) has also been famously captured, and Donavan wants him freed, too. All of this leads to a thrilling climax at a quiet, out-of-the-way bridge….full of spies.

My Thoughts

I loved this movie. Going into the theatre, I was certain I would greatly enjoy it, but it blew me away. The acting is superb by all players and I would not be shocked to see Rylance get an Academy nod for his stellar performance as Rudolf Abel. Simply put, he stole this movie.

Furthermore, everything looked so true to the time period. You will totally believe Spielberg took the cast back into time with the breathtaking visuals. East Germany, in particular, looks so real, cold — and terrifying. Couple this with all the intrigue and suspenseful situations playing out all around, all the time….and it’s very hard to beat.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Eve Hewson, who played the Donavan’s oldest child, Carol. I admit to being amused at her being cast in a movie that features the U2 spy plane incident as her father is U2 frontman, Bono. However, I’m sure this is purely coincidental as she delivers a fine performance and I’m certain she has a long acting career ahead of her.

If I had one disappointment, it is that Alan Alda really doesn’t get all that much to do. That’s it. So, aside from this note….

….Go see this movie!

Thanks for reading.

Rated PG-13 for very brief strong language and some violence. No sex to be found here, parents.

141 minutes.

Before I Wake by Steven Spruill – an “ok” book

Before I Wake by Steven Spruill

 

pic1

 

See it at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: decent enough storyline

Cons: but a dull subplot and unlikeable characters

Some good. Some bad. That’s my quickie review of Before I Wake by Steven Spruill.

Meet Amy – she’s the head of Emergency at a big hospital. She’s got a big problem on her hands. Some men are dying of heart attacks, men who shouldn’t be dead. Otherwise healthy men with low risk factors. So why are they dying? And why are the deaths happening to men who are all similar in terms of career, height, and eye color. Worse of all, Amy’s own father fits the profile to a T.

On top of that, Amy’s having the same nightmare over and over – it relates to some repressed trauma from when she was a kid, but she just can’t remember what it was. And yet, as bodies start piling up, she’s convinced that the key to all of this lies in those long-forgotten memories.

So, the storyline is decent. There’s enough mystery to keep readers guessing. And a host of potential suspects.

But there were also flaws.

First, there was the character of Amy. I disliked her, for several reasons. First, she makes some really dumb moves, taking some really dumb chances – things that per her and her loved ones into unnecessary danger.   Secondly, there’s a romance angle tossed into the book, that I really hated. Put simply: Amy hops into bed with someone way too quickly for my taste, and without really considering the consequences.

Then there was a subplot about a stolen statue that I found completely ridiculous. It was dull, not needed, and should have ended up on the editor’s floor.

There was another subplot about the financial problems of the ER and the possibility of its closing. Though not related to the main story, I did find this tangent interesting.

Lastly, the “big reveal” at the end was more like a puff than a bang. When you get right down to it, the motivation behind the bad guy’s actions was ridiculous. I just didn’t buy it. I don’t accept he would have gone through so much trouble for the reasons I was given.

So, Before I Wake by Steven Spruill is just an “ok” book. Not the best, not the worst. Get it if you come across it at a garage sale, but don’t spend too much… It’s just not worth it.

 

 

 

 

Much More than Explicit Sex!

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James (pen name for Erica Mitchell)

Cover design of Fifty Shades of GreyAvailable from Amazon in Kindle, $5.99; hardcover, $18.20; paperback, $9.56; and audio CD, $31.33

(5/5)

Pros: Despite what everyone’s heard, there is much more to Fifty Shades of Grey than explicit sex.

Cons: For me, it was small print.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the first of a trilogy. The second and third titles are Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shade Freed.

Most people read this book and salivated in expectation of the film. That’s the way things usually happen with a popular book. Most critics felt that the film didn’t live up to the novel. That’s something that usually happens when the hype from a wildly popular book exceeds any possible outcome for the upcoming film. I compare it to the disappointment we experience when a meticulously planned event doesn’t quite go the way we planned it. Instead of celebrating what we have, we curse at the dream that wasn’t realized.

I’m not like most people. I actually prefer reading the book after seeing the film. True, I’m not riding the tidal wave of “trending,” but I can enjoy the film without comparing it to the book. When I do read the book, some aspects of the characters that were left in the air on film become clear and help me get to an “aha moment” that I didn’t even know I missed.

Seeing Fifty Shades of Grey prior to reading also helped me absorb the story instead of just the erotica. Don’t get me wrong, I found myself inexplicably out of breath while reading the parade of sexual encounters between Ana and Christian – and I’m not even talking about the “S&M” events. I wondered if my husband and I could have ever managed multiple encounters within minutes of each other when we were in our 20s. My conclusion is that one of us would have fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion during the second or third time.

Reading Ana’s first encounter with Christian reminded me of the first book I read that detailed the first sex act, Peyton Place. I was at least 20 at the time and still a virgin (this is important to note). The book, film, and TV show had faded from the spotlight years before I happened upon my mother’s copy. I remembered seeing the film a few years earlier, but that was a time when anything controversial was filtered in film. You had to know the keywords used during pivotal scenes to understand what they were talking about. The courtroom scenes relied on Legalese to keep the censors at bay. The book was an eye-opener, especially for someone whose mother sheltered her from anything too explicit. I understood the general mechanics of sex but didn’t know how it would feel, especially the first time. Lucky for me, Peyton Place took the reins and told me that it would hurt and there would be blood. I remember thinking about that on my wedding night. I wondered if the hotel would sue us if they couldn’t get the stains out (yes, guilty conscience trumps carnal anticipation).

After reading Ana’s inauguration into sexuality, it made Peyton Place look like a sixth-grade health class textbook! I decided immediately that my husband should read this book. Why? I remembered comments from men who read excerpts from the book state that it didn’t turn them on. When I told my husband I wanted to see the film, he said that he read an article stating that women get turned on by thoughts instead of images while men are the opposite. If he reads it without – ahem – losing his objectivity, he might be able to learn more about women (particularly the one he’s been married to for 37 years). He might read it, he told me the other day.

When you get past all the sex and the Dominant/Submissive chapters, you have a love story told in first person. Anastasia Steele meets Christian Grey when she interviews him as a favor to her sick roommate. The chemistry is overwhelming, and Ana spends most of the interview trying to ignore it while reading her roommate’s questions. When Christian shows up at her job, she tells herself it’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t take much more for her to realize that Christian is pursuing her – and she reluctantly likes it. I say reluctantly because she’s not fond of receiving extravagant gifts. When Christian shows Ana his playroom and hands her a contract describing the limits of their arrangement, she’s completely unprepared for the world she’s asked to enter.

Ana soon discovers that being in love with a man who cannot return it is as painful as being a Submissive. Christian treats the “arrangement” like a professional contract. Terms like “genital clamps” glare at the reader in the contract Ana must decide whether or not to sign.

To relate anything more of the plot would be a spoiler.

However, I can tell you that Fifty Shades of Grey is a good read — especially if you want more than a Harlequin romance. Ana is an intelligent, independent woman preparing for a career in publishing. She is no pushover. Christian is young but every bit the CEO – control is what he feeds on.

E. L. James even inserts a bit of comedy when Ana and Christian meet each other’s parents. On the surface, they’re boyfriend and girlfriend; but there is so much more going on between glances and stares. She writes not just Ana’s feelings and sensations, she paints a picture of Christian’s stares. His gray eyes seem to change tone with his emotions. Hence, Fifty Shades of Grey can also refer to his eyes – but that’s my take as an artist.

For anyone who feels intimidated by the shock of seeing expletives in print, try to put that feeling aside. Those words have purpose. They’re not merely there to shock. For example, the difference between “f—ing” and “making love” has to be illustrated. If the language is G-rated, everything else falls flat.

My recommendation is to buy Fifty Shades of Grey. I borrowed it from our local library and now regret that I’ll have to return it. I plan on reading the rest of the trilogy, and it would have been nice to consult the first book to jog my memory – or just reread it on the spur of the moment.