A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Snarky, I know

I finally caught up with Australia on DVD, after deliberately not making much of an effort to see it in theaters a few years back.

It's not all that bad, actually, especially when you watch it at home and can take breaks (to get another glass of wine) several times during the 2 hour and 45 minute (!) running time. Baz Luhrmann's manic directing style, which worked pretty well for Moulin Rouge!, is pretty distracting during the first half hour, but he eventually settles down and applies his crazy cuts and camera work more sparingly so we can get into the story.

Anyway, It's all big sweeping stuff about cattle and romance and endless vistas and (finally) World War II, and there are actually three or four moments when your emotions will swell when it all comes together. And the rest of the movie is tolerably watchable, if you take those breaks I mentioned.

It's funny, though. There's some solemn verbiage at the beginning of the movie about the issue of Aboriginal relocation (sort of Australia's version of how we treated our American Indian population, I think) and a little more verbiage about it at the end, as if the movie wants to convince us that it's really about this dark issue from Australia's past. It's funny because the very long movie that appears between those two moments of onscreen verbiage is 95% concerned with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and whether they'll get together, with maybe six minutes (tops!) of the running time devoted to the Aboriginal relocation issue. I had to laugh.

I will say that the standard DVD I watched had spectacular picture and sound, so this sucker must look and sound really great on Blu-Ray. Hey, good presentation always helps with those types of long movies (like this one) that never quite make you forget you're watching a long movie.

In the end, let's just call Australia a tolerable, pretty good movie, no more and no less. Of course, that assessment might be a tad generous, because if someone told me I was never permitted to see this movie ever again, I have to honestly say that I wouldn't lose any sleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Welcome back, Mal

Finally back in print, and also now available on Kindle, Max Allan Collins' five-book mystery series featuring Vietnam Vet and fledging mystery writer Mallory is good, non-demanding fun, but with occasional depth that still resonates.

The war veteran and mystery writer angles don't really have much to do with Mallory in the series' initial adventure, The Baby Blue Rip-Off. Here he's basically just a decent young guy who starts looking into a rash of local burglaries aimed at senior citizens. One of the burglaries, you see, had resulted in the death of an old woman Mallory had befriended while doing some volunteer work, priming Mallory's interest in bringing the burglars (and now killers) to justice.

In my re-visit to the book, it was interesting to now notice that themes and interests that figure strongly into Collins' later work initially poked their heads up in small ways in this early series. For example, the world of the small-town antiques and collectibles business- the prime element of Collins and his wife's later Trash 'N Treasures mystery series- is a modest but crucial element of The Baby Blue Rip-Off. The title- at least in part- refers to some valuable collectible plates.

Anyway, this quick, entertaining read doesn't need a long review, so I'll just finish by saying that the book presents familiar mystery-novel elements (the gruff cop who doesn't want the brash young guy to get involved, the pretty blonde who maybe shouldn't be completely trusted, etc.) in fresh, involving ways. I really enjoyed reading this book again after many years and will continue right into the next four installments.

"The Baby Blue Rip-Off" is available on Kindle for $4.99, or free to borrow on the device if you're an Amazon Prime member (I did the latter).  The title is also available in brand spanking new print and audio editions.  The "Mallory" series is back with a vengeance, it seems! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

This and that

The Christmas and New Year's Day holidays, and the handful of additional full and half days off that nicely sprouted up around them, allowed for a generous amount of reading, audiobook, and movie-going time.  I'll probably write a few full-length reviews about some of the following, but for now here's a quick update on some things I've enjoyed lately.

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is a crazy-nuts crime novel centering around the world's worst marriage and the mysterious disappearance of the wife in the story.  An absorbing premise (Where's the wife? Did the husband kill her?), terrific second and third act twists, and the first completely successful use of the "unreliable narrator" device I've seen in ages (in other words, it's not frustrating when we eventually learn it was used in a sizable portion of the narrative) are only a few of the great things about the book.  I'll be writing more about this sharp, scary, and often blackly funny thriller shortly.  But for now go pick it up.  I did this one on audio and the two narrators- Kirby Heyborne and Julia Whelan- are terrific, making the most of the great material at their disposal.  A special thanks to my friend Tom Archer (himself a terrific writer) for recommending Gone Girl to me!

Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice, a Jesse Stone novel by Michael Brandman (Don't you hate long titles like that?) was a pleasant, laid back good time, though nowhere near as ambitious as the Flynn book.  Brandman's second Jesse Stone novel after taking over the series from the late Robert B. Parker, this slow-burn thriller has police chief Jesse trying to protect a pretty movie star from her violent, estranged husband while she's shooting a movie in Jesse's town.  Okay subplots, about a spoiled kid who refuses to stop texting while driving and a scandal at the local water company, round out the proceedings.  The various plotlines could have used more tension and complication, but what's on hand gets the job done.  And to be fair, Brandman wasn't afraid to shock readers, about halfway into the book, with a major-league failure on the part of Jesse and his allies that I definitely didn't see coming.   I did this book on audio, too, and James Naughton's smoky voice and mildly cynical demeanor served the material well. 

Flee, by J.A. Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson, features gorgeous female spies battling each other for a small device that can blow up the world.  The first book in the Codename: Chandler series, this is not a slow-burn thriller or, for that matter, a slow-burn anything.  This is relentless action and violent confrontation, with a little sex thrown in.  We get just enough character stuff, squeezed in via internal thoughts and the occasional flashback, to make us care about the characters or, if they're villains, hate them.  But, to be clear, Flee is 90% action (chasing, fighting, grappling, killing), so you have to be in the mood for that.  I was, so I enjoyed it.  I also thought it was cool that the major protagonists were all beautiful women (though some just beautiful on the outside).  I used my Amazon Prime status to borrow this book for free on my Kindle, though you can also buy it pretty cheaply on the device.  Anyway, I'm on board for the second book in the series, Spree, so I guess that's a recommendation, right?  

At the theater, I enjoyed both Django Unchained and Jack Reacher.  The former has writer and director Quentin Tarantino firing on all cylinders, delivering terrific dramatic situations, memorable action sequences (with real consequences), and great performances. I particularly enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson's cast-against-type performance as a black man complicit in the agonies and injustices of his fellow slaves.  Jack Reacher was also good (though not in the other film's league), delivering a well-told mystery story and a fascinating investigator in the form of ex-military cop Reacher, played in an understated, effective manner by Tom Cruise.  Also fun was seeing Robert Duvall as a crusty gun range owner who helps Reacher, and famous film director Werner Herzog, just taking an acting job this time to play (and really well, too) the creepy main villain.

Like I said, there's more to come on some of this stuff, but for now I hope you enjoyed the broad overview of what I've been up to lately, entertainment wise.