Festive In Death – J.D. Robb – holiday cheer, but lame investigation

Festive In Death – J.D. Robb

 

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See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: some fun holiday-themed stuff

Cons: lame investigation

Festive In Death is the 39th book in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Like the rest of the series, it takes place in the year 2060, and features New York Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas as she solves homicides.

In this case, it’s a few days before Christmas and much of the world is already in its festive, holiday mindset. But not Eve. Because a man has been killed and it’s her job to figure out who did it. Even though the man was a very bad man. Even though there are many who are pretty happy that he’s dead. Eve still has a job to do. This means pounding the pavement with some good old fashioned detective work, despite the calendar creeping ever closer to the holidays.

This series is endearing. Not always because of the investigations. Some of them are good, some are dull. But we always have fun with Eve and her crew of friends and co-workers. In this case, the upcoming holidays have everyone in a tizzy. Well, everyone except Eve, of course. If you’re at all familiar with the series, you know that Eve doesn’t do “tizzy”. She’s above the frenetic holiday traditions. As far as she’s concerned, the entire month of December could be wiped out and she’d be just fine. Shopping for presents? Dressing up for holiday parties? Worse, agreeing to actually host the party at her house? All of these things fall under the category of “silly nonsense” as far as Eve is concerned. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t eventually do them. With her usual grumpy attitude. And, in this case, with a lot of humor and charm for the readers who revel in her discomfort.

So, when it comes to all the “other stuff” that this series is known for, Festive has it, in spades.

But when it comes to the actual homicide investigation, this one was as lame as they come. A zillion suspects and yet I could barely dredge up an ounce of concern. I simply didn’t care. Frankly, I’d like to shake the hand of the person responsible, given the victim’s disgusting behavior.

Worse, there wasn’t anything clever about the eventual solve. Mostly a bunch of people sat around saying “maybe it was this person”, “maybe it was that person”. But nobody really devised a way to figure out exactly who did it. Not until someone eventually mentions a detail that wasn’t mentioned before. Then, like magic, it all falls into place. So the case was basically solved by someone outside of law enforcement mentioning an important detail.

Like I said, the investigation was lame. Yes, the Christmas-related stuff was fun, but I hope the next book in the series gives us a better case to solve.

Other books in the In Death series

Betrayal In Death
Born In Death
Born In Death
Ceremony In Death
Concealed In Death
Devoted In Death
Divided In Death
Glory In Death
Haunted In Death
Immortal In Death
Indulgence In Death
Innocent In Death
Interlude In Death
Judgment In Death
Midnight In Death
Missing In Death
Naked In Death
Naked In Death
Obsession In Death
Origin In Death
Rapture In Death
Reunion In Death
Salvation In Death
Strangers In Death
Survivor In Death
Treachery In Death
Vengeance In Death
Visions In Death

Die Again Tomorrow – Kira Peikoff missed an opportunity

Die Again Tomorrow by Kira Peikoff

 

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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: decent premise and story

Cons: missed an opportunity for some real discussion

Die Again Tomorrow by Kira Peikoff explores a couple different, yet related, death-inspired themes. 

The first revolves around so-called Viatical Settlements – where someone (presumably with a terminal illness) sells their life insurance policy at a discount for upfront cash.  The buyer continues to make the premiums, and collects the full amount of the policy upon the seller’s death.

The seller gets to use his cash right away, and the buyer has a giant payday at some point in the future.  Of course, this system only works out for the buyer if and when the seller dies.  In other words, the death of the seller directly ties into the buyer’s profit margin.  A scary proposition, indeed.

The second theme revolves around a top-secret, experimental drug – one that can greatly slow the brain’s decay, after death.  Coupled with a complex protocol, a secret team of doctors has managed to reverse death. 

Now put those two concepts together and what do you have?  A thriller, of course. 

In this case, Isabel is the policy-holder.  And, after a drowning incident, she becomes the next recipient of this secret experimental drug.  Happily for her, she’s alive and well.  Unhappily, she’s the target of a less-than-honorable assassin – after all, she was supposed to be the conduit to a big payoff.  But only once she’s dead

What follows is a fairly complex story that goes beyond cat-and-mouse-chase.  With crisp writing, covering several view-points, and a twist here and there to keep you guessing, Die Again Tomorrow held my interest throughout.

If I have any criticism at all, it’s that Peikoff did not go into any discussion of the morality and ethics of death-reversal.  She presents this possibility as if it will solve the world’s problems and nothing could be further from truth.  Just imagine what a world would look like, if such a drug existed.  First of all, astronomical mayhem would ensue if it were only available to some and not to all.  Talk about ‘worth killing for’.  But even in a world where the drug is as available as an aspirin, imagine the potential problems.  No one ever dies, the population just continues to grow and get older…

I just think Peikoff could have delved into this issue a little bit.  At least present it as a gray area, one worthy of deeper consideration.  Sure, thrillers are there to thrill, not necessarily to educate or lecture, but I think the readers can handle a bit of intelligent discussion mixed in with the thrills. 

 

Unsettling fiction-making

In the House (2012)

bed (4.5/5)

Pros: strong script, strong performances

Cons: ending is less arresting than buildup to it

Adapted by prolific French auteur François Ozon from a play by Juan Mayorga, “In the House” (Dans la maison, 2012) is a Pirnadellian dark comedy about writing, invasion of privacy, expropriation and manipulation of the lives of others.

A failed writer turned teacher (Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach) Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini [Bicylcing with Molière]) is surprised and delighted to find a boy with talent in his literature class, Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer). Even what Claude writes for the first assignment in unsettling in subject matter: c

hronicling his success at getting into the house of what seems to Claude (whose mother long ago left his crippled father) a normal family. Claude is helping Rapha Artole (fils—the son) with trigonometry problems, while spying on the mother, Esther Artole (Roman Polanski’s wife and lead in his “Venus in Furs,” Emmanuelle Seigner) and, to a lesser extent the father, hearty Rapha Artole père (Denis Ménochet).

In the House by François Ozon

Claude’s serial stories entrance while troubling both his teacher and the teacher’s wife Jeanne Germain (Kristin Scott Thomas, who not only speaks perfect French but has the look and body language down). The teacher advocates Flaubertian detachment, though the unfolding story is about forming or counterfeiting attachment (from all three Garcias). Jeanne, even more than her husband, assumes that everything Claude writes is reportage of what he does and sees. There are scenes in which Germain scolds Claude within the scenes Claude is writing. Germain presses Claude to find an ending that is unexpected yet after being read feels both satisfying and inevitable.

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This sets a high demand on the screenplay, and for me the ending was inevitable enough but expected (and less than satisfying, anticlimactic). Still, I found the movie more interesting and less repellant than some other Ozon movies (See the Sea, Criminal Lovers, Water Drops on Burning Rocks), though not as good as some others (5×2, 8 Women, Time to Leave), in the league with Ozon’s previous (2010) “Potiche” (in which Luchini played a major part).

In addition to uncertainty about what is fictional in what Claude writes about his embededness (eventually literal) in the Artole house, the viewer cannot be certain what the Germains are reading into the installments they both read and discuss, with Mme. Germain judging the characters while her husband attempts to hold onto judging the writing.

Besides being Rapha’s math tutor, Claude also helps Rapha write an attack on Germain for humiliating Rapha in class (making him read his essay about his best friend, Claude, and then tearing it apart, sentence by sentence). And to ensure Claude’s success in raising Rapha’s math grade, Germain has stolen a math exam and supplied it to Claude.

Yes, Claude has bewitched two households and eventually gets into the apartment of the Germains, where he is not surprised that Jeanne knows the story he has been writing for her husband. Or that she has been disturbed by her husband’s fascination with the sixteen year-old boy, even as she also hangs on the cliff of expectation while waiting for the next installment of his serial (all of which end with “to be continued”).

The other voyeur, the viewer of the movie, does not know if the movie s/he is watching is going to veer into thriller violence or remain a bitter comedy (both Germain Germain and Claude are bitter as well as being aspiring and once-aspiring writers). Teacher tells student he must have more conflict to make an interesting story and then (along with the viewer) wonders how much of the conflict that then occurs in the serial is reportage, how much imagination. That is, how much is writing, how much living the story Claude is telling?

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The Blu-Ray has an hour making-of feature and twelve minutes of deleted scenes, a poster gallery, and a trailer. The trailer may be viewed at

Been there, done that.

Jersey Boys

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$19.54 Blu-Ray at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: Superb music performances.

Cons: Overly familiar and emotionally inert

Jersey Boys is a movie one wants to like better than they actually do. The 2014 cinematic adaptation of the long running Broadway play offers up a look at the career of the Four Seasons. The play was a musical complete with singing and dancing numbers. This interpretation is a drama with music. The one traditional musical number is saved until the closing credits.

The music contained in the film is superb. The Four Seasons music, while more dated than that of many of their contemporaries, still sounds good. But it doesn’t have the same cross-generational appeal as that of contemporaries like the Beatles or Stones.

Unfortunately, especially for those who have seen a lot of musical bio-pics, the story has a been there done that feel. Certain elements recall Goodfellas, certain ones bring to mind Dreamgirls and still others evoke The Fighter.

When it was announced that a movie version of Jersey Boys was on the way and that Clint Eastwood would be directing, people wondered whether or not he was the best choice. Eastwood is a great director. But his economical approach to filmmaking would not appear to mesh that well with what a musical calls for. Having seen Jersey Boys twice bears out that suspicion.

Of course that approach explains why this movie version is less a musical than a drama with music. To really get the essence of Jersey Boys on screen, a different director was needed. Bob Fosse would’ve been the best choice. But he’s long gone. So maybe Bill Condon who scripted Chicago and wrote and directed the aforementioned adaptation of Dreamgirls. Or Paul Thomas Anderson whose Boogie Nights crackled and popped with a rhythmic fever. Or the British Alan Parker whose work is often both gritty and lyrical.

The basic story follows the rise and fall of the Four Seasons. Of course, many of the elements are familiar from other musical bio-pics. If you’ve seen Ray or Walk The Line or The Buddy Holly Story or La Bamba or The Doors or Straight Outta Compton, you already have a fairly good idea of what to expect.

What makes Jersey Boys worth watching is the music. A number of Four Seasons songs are performed in their entirety by the cast and those are sunng superbly.

Eastwood for the most part used the same actors who’d appeared in the original Broadway version of Jersey Boys. While that approach backfired in the 2005 film version of Rent (by the time it went into production, those actors were too old to play people in their late teens/early twenties) it works here. You get some decent acting and some very good singing. Plus, the actors are able to slip into the characters more easily than if big name stars had been cast.

So there isn’t really a lot wrong with jersey Boys. It’s main flaw is the aforementioned “been there done that” feeling and the fact that it doesn’t have the musical feel a movie of this type should have. So it’s worth seeing for the good songs. But it isn’t the full-on masterpiece it so desperately wants to be.