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Preview: Tomes & Flicks

Tomes & Flicks

Some attempts to document my Twin Loves of Books and Films into what I hope are coherent thoughts.

Updated: 2018-03-06T05:00:01.258-08:00


Flick: The Raid Redemption and Dredd (2012)


Law enforcers trapped in an apartment building controlled by a vicious crimelord need to fight their way out.Depending on your movie selection this weekend in KL, this description could be applied equally to Gareth Evans' Indonesian action scorcher The Raid:Redemption or Pete Travis' Dredd , the recent and second screen incarnation of the iconic Brit comic dispenser of instant judgement.Disregarding any plagiarism on the part of either filmmaker, both movies can be enjoyed as the purest distillation of the action movie, genre exercises done right thanks to it's makers' unswerving commitment to delivering what movies like these need: balls to the wall action, with tension ratcheted up by repellant villains capable of meting out slow and sadistic punishment and heroes' who absolutely WILL NOT stand for that shit, although their motivations differ.For SWAT member Rama (Iko Uwais) in The Raid, it's a matter of survival pure and simple. With his team largely decimated by the ambush orchestrated by drug lord Tama in the decrepit tenement he controls via close cicrcuit cameras, intercoms and boy spotters, Rama's raison d'etere isn't so much the  apprehension of Tama and his vicious horde as it is to just get the fuck out of there in one piece, and if that means laying the smackdown with his deadly fists and feet of fury and littering corridors with the maimed carcasses of assholes who become obstacles to that objective, then so be it. Evans' and Uwais' second outing after Merantau Warrior is a balls-to-the-walls adrenaline shot to the veins of the most jaded action movie fan. The fight scenes escalate in complexity and brutality culminating in a 2- against-1 scrap, the twist here being that it takes the combined skills of Rama and Brother-Turned-Bad Andi (Donny Alamsyah) to take on Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian, also the movie's co-fight choreographer alongside Uwais), a stone cold fighting machine who likens pulling a trigger to "ordering take out" and can still dispense punishment with shards of a broken fluorescent tube sticking out of his neck! The plot is inconsequential (some tosh about the raid itself being a set up, police corruption, Good Brother vs Bad Brother Bollywood drama blah blah) and the acting purely serviceable (the thespic skills of a Crowe or a Bale isn't required here). The Raid Redemption is carnage served straight up. Neat, 2 cubes and hold the water please. Tony Jaa's Ong Bak set the bar and standards for a new era of bone-crunching martial arts in 2008. With Jaa supposedly back filming a sequel to Tom Yum Goong after a self-imposed exile following the stresses of shooting Ong Bak 2 and 3, he'd best remember: The bar's now been set even higher.For Dredd (Karl Urban) - judge, jury and executioner of an urban law enforcement unit called Judges in a futuristic, dystopian concrete jungle called Mega City One-the motivations are even clearer. He's there to take down Ma-Ma (Lena Heady), scarred former hooker, current gang boss and landlord of Peach Tree, a high rise slum doubling as a manufacturing base for Slo-Mo (the current "hot" narcotic on the street, enabling users to view time at 1% of regular speed) and if he has to fill up stairwells with bullet-ridden bodies of minions promised a bounty for his head and that of rookie Mutant Psychic partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on his ascent to the Penthouse Lair of the Drug Queen, then so be it. Under siege, sealed off from the outside with no chance of back up and facing resistance from seemingly every block dweller, Dredd's response is a simple warning:"In case you have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law... I am the law."Travis' remake rights all the wrongs of the pathetic Sly Stallone attempt in 1995. The screen Dredd is now the closet approximation to his comic book avatar; a stone-cold dispenser of justice, a merciless and remorseless enforcer of the law and most important of all, he NEVER removes the helmet this time, leading Urban[...]

Flick:Rob Roy



Released the same year as Braveheart, Rob Roy is in many ways the anthithesis to Mel Gibson's rousing epic.

Rob Roy's issues are personal, William Wallace's public. The former fights to avenge his honour, whereas the latter takes up arms for his land.

Clarion calls of "FREEDOM" have no import in Rob Roy, whose titular Highlander's (Liam Neeson, Jedi Knight in a kilt) most pressing need is the housing, clothing and feeding of his family and clansmen.

It's the early 1700's and the kingdoms of England and Scotland have both been unified, although that hardly lessens the traditional disdain that dandy Englishmen like the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt) bear for their Celtic cousins along with a deep seated suspicion that the Highlands are scattered with Jacobites (sympathisers of the deposed Stuart monarch James II).

When Rob asks for a thousand pound loan to herd and sell cattle to raise cash from Montrose, his scheming nephew Archie Cunningham and aide Killearm (Tim Roth and Brain Cox, both of whom chew and steal their scenes with effortless ease) steal the money by killing and framing Rob's best friend, Andy McDonald (a miscast but mercifully brief Eric Stoltz) for the theft.

When Rob refuses to denounce the Duke of Argyll as a Jacobite on Montrosse's request in exchange for cancelling the debt, the stage is set, like all movies featuring a Scottish hero, for an unleashing of English brutality with all the traditional boxes of large scale slaughter, house burning and female violations dutifully checked. Bloody reprisals on the way to a climactic showdown between Rob and Archie follow.

If it lacks the expansive sweep of Braveheart, Rob Roy more than compensates with a central relationship, that of Rob and his strong wife Mary, that's genuinely moving and engaging. See in this yet another counterpoint to Braveheart, where women (both living and dead) merely function as catalysts for a call to arms and visions of sanity to cling onto in the midst of torture.

Rob Roy is in many ways, the anti-epic. The panoramic vistas and battles are accounted for, but it's struggles are deeply personal and above all, it's a charming love story between a man and his wife.

Terrific performances, sharp dialogues and a memorable villain make Rob Roy a winner.

The Expendables



Any objectivity I would have had watching The Expendables was obliterated years ago, thanks to a wasted adolescence devouring practically the entire Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Van Damme/Seagal/Norris ouevre of undiluted carnage.

They were simple (ok, often stupid) but they served you their action straight up, unencumbered by pseudo-philosophical ruminations or the need to piggy back on popular comic-book mythologies. It was a time when the idea of Keanu Reeves or Matt Damon kicking ass and taking names (or for that matter James Bond moping for 2 movies over some chick who fucked him over) most likely existed as a stupid joke in my wasted brain.

The Expendables is a glorious throwback to that era and that's probably the only way you're ever going to derive any sort of enjoyment from it.

Needless to say, it effortlessly located my viewing G-Spot and I probably watched it with a stupid grin plastered on my face throughout it's running time.

It, quite naturally fell victim to it's own All Star line-up. There simply wasn't enough time to showcase everyone, but Stallone deserves a solid 'A' for effort. He wisely gives Statham ample screen time (he's the only one in the group with a career trajectory currently pointing north), and gives everyone their 2 minutes under the spotlight thanks to action scenes that exist for no other reason than to have these titans go at it, WWF style (Li Vs. Lundgren! Austin Vs. Stallone!Austin Vs. Couture!).

I wish Sly had eased up on the Mike Bay-style edits thoughs would have loved the fights to linger on my visual cortex for more than 1/2 a second, located somewhere in the movie's numerous fights is a Statham-Li tag team move that I'll have to wait for the DVD to fully enjoy.

And is it just me who thinks Mickey Rourke just ambled over from the Iron Man 2 set to this one?

The one scene that surprisingly didn't work for me (most likely on account of it being built up way too much) was the cameo featuring Planet Hollywood's major shareholders. It all seemed too forced, with Arnie at his absolute smirking worst.

It's cavalier treatment of women is de rigueur for movies like this and I doubt if the writers know or even care about the irony (it's probably too stupid to) of a script that posits a woman as the salvation point for these jaded warriors while also subjecting her to the film's nastiest torture sequence not to mention having Statham's character excoriate his girl for taking up with a loser while he exercises his right to disappear for long stretches of time without telling her.

God, I love the '80s!



A good remake should respect all that was good about the original, tweaking the formula just enough to keep it fresh wthout obliterating everything that worked the first time, not to mention the goodwill of returning fans. As much homage as reboot, as well as a sequel of sorts to John McTiernan's impeccably crafted 1987 actioner, the Robert Rodriguez-produced and Nimrod Antal (Vacancy, Armoured)-directed Predators gets it right.The movie's numerous and respectful hat-tips to the original hit all my viewing sweet spots, thanks to an annual habit of popping the Arnie original into my DVD player for a spin.-A high jump off a cliff into a river-An army of bad-asses emptying their formidable weaponry against an enroaching threat (Yup, Ole' Painless makes a comeback).-A ripped to hell hero smearing himself with mud to avoid detection.-Said hero crawling in pain after a brutal beating from his otherworldly nemesis.-A victim making his last stand (although, in this version, he goes down carving a healthy chunk of Predator-meat).While it's reverential references are largely based on the original Predator, it cribs enough from the sequels to liven up proceedings, especially in mixing up it's motley crew of mercenaries with members of the criminal fraternity (shades of Predator 2) and featuring a dust-up between 2 Predators from rival tribes (from the now hopefully defunct Alien Vs. Predator films).Parachuted into an off-Earth game preserve, a group of hired killers need to stay one step ahead of the dreadlocked, mandible-mouthed, heavy heat packing and invisible uber-hunters, easier said than done when their de-facto leader has self-preservation high on his agenda and their numbers consist of a Yakuza enforcer, a death-row inmate who dreams of raping women and a doctor clueless in the arts of combat and evasion (or is he?) not to mention Danny Trejo.Speaking of Trejo, his rather wasted role and a thoroughly pointless cameo from Laurence Fishburne are the only damp spots in this otherwise crackling actioner (you have both Machete and Morpheus at your disposal and all you can give them are dismal cameos?)The action's good, the effects decent and the acting perfectly serviceable.Brody's certainly no Arnie........but he brings a thinking man's gravitas to the role.Predators is a perfect afternoon's popcorn view and rejuvenates a franchise that was pretty much three quarters of the way on the slide to mediocrity on it's way to a blisfull oblivion. [...]

Tome: Shogun


(image) Shogun by James Clavell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You either buy into the epic romanticism of Clavell's mammoth (in size and popularity) bestseller or you don't.

Historical verisimilitude isn't the agenda here. You get the trappings of period flavour, but Clavell's 16th Century Japan is mere backdrop to the myriad sub-plots of Byzantine political manueverings, jockeying for prime trading monopolies, war plans and an inter-racial love story strung along the key plot thread of a ship-wrecked Englishman's gradual assimilation into the society and impending battle between 2 rival warlords in Feudal Japan.

Re-reading snatches of Shogun after a 20 year gap still shows it to be an incredibly engaging yarn, and hardly colours my long-time belief that Clavell was a master-story teller with a knack for sustaining engaging narratives over an intimidating length of pages.

The history is there for colour, but what Clavell largely delivers, much like Ken Follett's The Pillars Of The Earth, is pure Medieval Soap Opera.

The dichotomoy of a rigid society of equisitely cultivated rituals and manners with a penchant for sudden vicious brutality is conveyed engagingly enough through the eyes of a befuddled John Blackthorne, later to be dubbed Anjin (Pilot)-San owing to the sheer "unpronounceability" of his English name by Japanese tongues.

But less one feel tempted to castigate Clavell for the exoticism of his subjects, note that while Blackthorne is positioned as the story's token hero, as the book progresses, he becomes one of many pawns on the strategic chessboard of the brilliant and charismatic Yoshi Toranaga as he jockeys for power against key rival Ishido for the position of Ultimate Commander, the Shogun.

Deliriously entertaining for much of it's colossal length, Shogun's still the Gold Standard by which I measure Far East epics for their sheer readability and entertainment factor and Clavell was simply the best at delivering them.

View all my reviews >>

Flick: Universal Soldier:Regeneration


I have no issues with fading action stars taking long dormant franchises out of mothballs to jump-start their flagging box-office fortunes.It's, after all, given us the slightly under-whelming but entertaining Indy 4, the poignant Rocky 6, the visceral Rambo 4 and kinetic Live Free or Die Hard.And now we have Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, doyens of low-rent actioners for much of the late '80s to mid-'90s cinema( currently doyens of low-rent actioners released directly to DVD) saddling up for a rematch of their burly barnyard brawl in the Roland Emmerich-directed 1990 action hit Universal Soldier.But fans expecting Regeneration to be the vehicle that finally hauls these ageing Euro Hunks out of the murky depths of DVD Dungeon should check their expectations at the door.It takes a full hour for Van Damme to swing into action and Lundgren's appearance amounts to little more than a cameo.As for the much anticipated, hyped and awaited Dolph-Damme rematch?It's pulverisingly brutal stuff...for all of the 2 minutes it lasts.The plot, for those that actually need one, is about a disposed Russian general and his army who kidnap the children of the Soviet Premier and hold them captive at the abandoned Chernobyl Nuclear plant (yes, that Chernobyl), threatening to both kill his hostages and unleash a nuclear Holocaust if his political allies aren't released from prison.The US army is called in to help (big surprise), and they come with an elite cadre of fighting fit men, including 4 UniSols i.e Universal Soldiers; regenerated former corpses tweaked and honed to near indestructible fighting capability.But their first incursion into the plant for a rescue mission is soundly thwarted, courtesy of the baddies' Secret Weapon: A souped-up UniSol Ver.2 (UFC alumni Sergei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski, displaying the personality of a lamp-post but a brutally efficient fighter), created and maintained by a defecting and mercenary scientist who also has his own "Insurance Policy" against the rebel general, a re-cloned former UniSol Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren).With a sizeable chunk of their force massacred not to mention their UniSols permanently decommissioned, the military authorities yank their last surviving UniSol Luc Devereaux (Van Damme) out of retirement and some cosy rehabilitation therapy in Switzerland to take out the bad guys.The filmmaker's decision to ignore events in the second film may sit well with those who feel every available copy of Universal Soldier:The Return needs to be hunted down and burnt along with the original negatives, but as one of the 10 people on the planet who genuinely enjoyed it's absurd cheesiness, Regeneration seems dark and dour by comparison, thanks to a spare, minimalist approach taken by director John (son of Peter) Hyams that echoes the John Carpenter actioners of the '80s like "Escape From New York" complete with a thumping electronica score. It works for the script's sombre mood and complements the fast, furious and effective action set pieces.But the drawback is you get a Devereaux leeched of much of his humanity (which, after all, was an underlying theme of the first 2 flicks), Van Damme's natural charisma buried beneath a perpetually sullen demeanour that tends to give credence to rumours that he was strong-armed into the role owing to contractual requirements.And shoe-horning a 10min Lundgren cameo just to insert him into a fleeting fight scene with Van Damme is Fan Bait of the worst kind. But kudos to Drago for investing his all too brief screen time with a delicious reprise of his unhinged soldier, An Andrew Scott re-cloned complete with his homicidal psychosis intact, and more's the pity he didn't get to pull Chief Baddie duties.For action junkies, Universal Soldier 3 is definitely worth a spin on their players, thanks to Hyams' slick choreography of the action scenes. The fights, executed for the most part by genuine exponents, is thankfu[...]

Tome: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


(image) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Stieg Larsson's first book in the Millennium trilogy is a curious hybrid.

One the one hand, it's a corporate thriller about the attempts of discredited journalist Mikael Blomkvist to expose the shady financial dealings of corporate financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom.

On the other, it's a riff on the traditional village-based murder mystery canonised by Agatha Christie, as Blomkvist is hired by industrialist Henrik Vanger to uncover the mystery behind the disapperance of his grand-niece almost 40 years ago from the sleepy hamlet of Hedeby.

Meaning, it may be set deep in the Scandinavian hartlands and feature characters with names like Lisbeth, Mikael and Hans-Erik, but at heart, The Girl With The Dragon tattoo is thoroughly English in it's murder mystery and wholly American in it's thriller elements of serial killing and corporate skull-duggery.

Trouble is, it doesn't transcend it's dog-eared antecedents to deliver anything remotely refreshing.

The mystery sets up a deliciously traditional framework of a sprawling, squabling and nasty family most likely neck-deep in collussion in the disappearance of one of their own. But Larsson never exploits this by giving any of them significant roles. The 2 thoroughly unpleasant members of the Vanger clan, Henrik's ex-Nazi brother Harald and Isabella, Harriet's cold and calculating mother are reduced to cameos.

And when the mystery morphs into a serial killer tale replete with torture room basements that climaxes with a most unsatisfactory end for it's depraved antagonist, it's hard not to wonder what the fuss over this book is all about.

Once the Harriet Vanger mystery is resolved, the book then switches gear for the next 100 pages to detail Blomkvist's elaborate plan to take down Wennerstrom, a plot thread resolved equally unsatisfactorily.

What keeps this 600 page tome (barely) afloat are it's 2 leads.

Blomkvist is an amiable protagonist with an enviable talent of getting women, be it much married colleagues, 53 year old headmistresses or rebellious hackers dropping their knickers within days of coming into contact with his genial, easy-going and non-judgemental demeanour.

The titular girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is deeply scarred, sociopathically obsessed with control and a gifted researcher possessing a violent temper. She is the book's only fleshed out and intriguing character and her troubled past is something I hope Larsson has expanded on in the subsequent 2 books.

Larsson's agenda seems clear given his tendency to open each of the book's various sections with a statistical bulletin on female abuse in Sweden and the fact that apart from Blomkvist and males above 70, men come off as world-class turds in his book. (The book's Swedish tile is "Men Who Hate Women"). But one sincerely wishes that the sermonising came in a more attractive package.

A mystery that never quite engages and a thriller that doesn't quite thrill, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo doesn't kick-off the Millenium Trilogy on a high note.

One hopes the subsequent installments are an improvement.

View all my reviews >>

Tome: The Cold Six Thousand


(image) The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
James Ellroy's second volume in his USA Underworld trilogy follows the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and culminates in the killing of his brother Robert and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King. Once again told through a 3-man arc (returning American Tabloid alumni Pete Bondurant and Ward Littell and newcomer Wayne Tedrow Jr.), The Cold Six Thousand, is a massive, demanding read, hardly helped by Ellroy's pared-to-the-bone prose and a plot that isn't so much labyrinthine as it is a literary hydra, where the closure of one strand merely results in the sprouting of 2 more cogs in an incredibly complex wheel of murky dealings, shady alliances and tangled sexual politics.

Ellroy's massive, grimy canvas now takes in the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, the former exploited by nefarious CIA operatives to run a drug manufacturing and exporting enterprise, with profits being funneled into training camps for mercenaries to for yet another planned Cuba invasion to topple Fidel Castro, while the latter prompts the ever-scheming J.Edgar Hoover to launch a cointelpro to discredit the movement.

Mixed into this turbulent stew is Wayne's misplaced hatred of Black people and it's attendant guilt when his wife is brutally murdered by a black felon he let escape, Ward Littell's gradual unraveling by guilt and remorse over his collussion with Hoover to discredit King and the Mob to fleece the reclusive Howard Hughes in Las Vegas and Pete Bondurant's gradually disintegrating marriage to Barb Cathcart.

Not the easiest of reads but a must for fans of Ellroy's revisionist American History and it's deeply flawed facilitators.

View all my reviews >>

Tomes: The Age Of Innocence


(image) The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A scathing attack on the hypocrisy and insularity of upper-crust New York Society in the late 19th Century and it's collective effort to thwart a romance between the married Newland Archer and disgraced Countess Ellen Olenska, The Age Of Innocence is not only one of the most entertaining reads you'd get out of a tome slapped with the twin labels of "Masterpiece" and "Pulitzer Prize Winner", it's a testimony to Wharton's consummate skill and narrative control as a novelist that she not only manages to have you race through the pages for a conclusion that's really quite foregone, but effortlessly tells this tale not through the eyes of a woman, as would have been naturally expected, but filters it convincingly through her troubled and introspective male protagonist.

Sped through this in less than 2 days. Sharp,witty, observant and of course, wonderfully romantic in the best tradition of Austen, The Age Of Innocence is a winner, for this reader at least.

View all my reviews >>

Flicks: Che


Steeped in authentic, gritty realism, Steven Soderbergh's biopic of revolutionary and guerrilla fighter Ernesto "Che" Guevara, filmed in 2 parts, is definitely NOT a lazy Sunday view.Both Che Parts 1 & 2 demand your undivided attention, with it's docu-drama approach and sombre pacing.Top marks for a commanding performance by Benicio Del Toro in the titular role, an authentic recreation of teeming jungle locales and shanty towns dotted around it's fringes and Soderbergh's largely unknown cast who bring the harsh drudgery, sickness prone and violence infested life of an impoverished resistance movement to splendid life.Deduct those same marks for an almost hagiographical rendering of a T-Shirt adorning icon.There's virtually nothing here for for those seeking events, experiences or even catalysts shaping and defining Che's transformation from ordinary man to extraordinary revolutionary in his zealous embracing of La Causa.What drives this man, who after a victorious Cuban Revolution, that saw him fight alongside Fidel Castro to depose the ruling regime of Fulgencio Batista and chronicled in Part 1, to then chuck all vestiges of an ostensibly privileged existence in Havana to head south to Bolivia to relive another Hell-ish tour of Jungle Duty in resurrecting yet another Dictator Deposing Cause, depicted in Part 2?As the movie is adapted from Che's own diaries, the glossing over of less savoury aspects of the man (presiding over numerous executions during his stint in Cuba. for one) is understandable. But this viewer still wanted a little more Man and a little less Icon.You get Che the Firebrand castigating American Imperialism and it's supporters during a UN Assembly, Che the Leader dispensing discipline and justice, Che the Healer dispensing medication and Che the Writer and Thinker to his group of backwoods soldiers, but what you don't get, frustratingly so, is inside the man's head.The pace, already leisurely in the first part, gets positively lugubrious in the second, with interminable scenes of the Communist guerrillas in the jungle talking, making camp, hiding and running wit the odd burst of excitement provided by the odd burst of gunfire during the rebels' numerous skirmishes with the ruling military forces.Given the effectiveness of a cast of relative unknowns in 2 movies with dialogues almost entirely in Spanish, Soderbergh's choice of throwing the odd Famous Face or 2 is perplexing, to say the least. Oh look! There's Franka Potente, a Miss If You Blink Matt Damon (providing more fodder for trivia lovers to say that's 2 leads of The Bourne franchise re-united in this movie) and Lou "Where the hell's he been " Diamond Phillips.When Che finally fulfills his destiny as a martyr to The Cause, you're left hardly knowing anything about a character you spent than 4 hours of screen time with.Che the film is always intriguing, occasionally arresting but isn't consistently engaging enough to warrant this epic treatmentKayKay's recommendation: Only for die hard fans of the Argentine revolutionary (with lots of leisure time)[...]

Tomes: American Tabloid


American Tabloid by James EllroyMy rating: 5 of 5 starsI read American Tabloid years ago as a student in Australia. I re-read it recently, largely to re-familiarize myself with the sleazy, murky world of Ellroy's USA Underworld Trilogy, before I tackle his just published 3rd and final installment Blood's A Rover.Long time readers of Ellroy's books will quickly find out that the USA Underworld books are merely the author painting his hellish world view on a wider canvas; American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand are basically the crime and grime of his magnificent LA Quartet(The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere,LA Confidential and White Jazz) extrapolated to Nation Wide scale.As Ellroy states in his biting Foreward:"America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets".Tabloid sets out to prove Ellroy's maxim that President John F Kennedy "got whacked at the optimum moment assure his saintlihood" and seeks to "dislodge his urn and cast light on a few men who attended his ascent and facilitated his fall"."They were rogue cops and shakedown artists. They were wire-tappers and soldiers of fortune and faggot lounge entertainers."Tabloid is Ellroy's revision of American History, and like LA Confidential, predicated on a 3 Man character arc: Thuggish and violent Pete Bondurant, Handsome, opportunistic and money-loving Kemper Boyd and the conflicted, guilt-wracked Ward Littell.To even try to encapsulate American Tabloid's labyrinthine plot within the confines of a review is foolhardy; storylines intersect, interests collide, combustible partnerships are formed and then brutally sundered. Shakedown artist, pimp and strong arm man Bondurant supplies dope to an increasingly bizarre Howard Hughes while facilitating hits for Teamster Union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who is under investigation, along with the Mafia he's neck deep in collussion with by a crusading Robert Kennedy, whose McClellan Committee is infiltrated by Kemper Boyd on orders from a Machievellian J. Edgar Hoover convinced the committee's very existence is a slap in the face of the FBI.Littell, worshipping Bobby Kennedy and his crusade, clandestinely hunts for the Mob's Achilles Heel: a set of Union Pension Fund books detailing illicit transactions of monies to finance numerous Mob-sanctioned enterprises with usurious interest rates charged to lenders, a fund liberally skimmed by Teamster Boss Hoffa for his own underhanded dealings.Ellroy's clipped,staccato, rapid-fire, slang-coated and hugely profane prose and various epistolary devices (transcripts of phone conversations/memos/Newspaper articles)turbo charges a narrative that sees Bondurant and Boyd get co-opted then consumed by the CIA-Mob funded recruitment and training of a cadre of anti-Castro Cubans for the launch of the disastrous Bay Of Pigs invasion, chronicles the fall and then remarkable ascent of Littell as the Mob's and Howard Hughes' top lawyer even while it hurtles towards the inevitable downfall of Hoover's pet Agent and Kennedy Lover Kemper Boyd.At the centre of this convoluted spider web of a narrative sits King Tarantula Hoover, the Underworld Trilogy's Primary Villain,as deliciously evil a creation as Ellroy's other Dastardly Wicked Character, rogue cop Dudley Smith in the LA Quartet along with the ubiquitous presence of the Mob/Outfit/La Cosa Nostra and it's Chief Heads Sam "Mo" "Momo" Giancana, Johnny Rosselli, Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante.Tabloid isn't for those whose idea of a fun read isn't spending 500-odd pages with a uniformly unpleasant set of characters and aren't prepared for some of the most unflattering potrayals of certain historic personages in American History (Hoover-Cunningly Manipulative, Jack Kennedy-Sexually Voracious, Robert Kennedy-Obsessively Driven, Jimmy Hof[...]

The Punisher(s)


It's a colossal shame that 3 re-boots of The Punisher couldn't launch a sustainable franchise which effectively lumped it in the Failed Comic Book-To-Screen adaptations of Marvel superheroes. It rankles me no end that this means all 3 adaptations now join the mediocre Daredevil and the truly awful Elektra in the failed pantheon of Marvel characters who couldn't make the successful transition to the screen. More's the pity as each successive iteration of the skull-insignia sporting vigilante killer improved on it's predecessor with the 3rd movie finally striking the right balance between comic-book violence and showcasing the utter ruthlessness of one of Marvel's darkest anti-heroes.Raiding my DVD archives to re-visit all 3 screen outings of the uber vigilante recently, I saw 3 occassionally cheesy, frequently dumb but constantly entertaining actioners that's perfect lazy Sunday viewing, if your idea of lazy Sunday viewing is bullet-riddled corpses, multiple stabbings and large scale destruction achieved through the expenditure of enough military arsenal to launch a foreign coup.The Punisher (1989)When cop Frank Castle's wife and children are killed by mobster Dino Morreti, he becomes a driven vigilante meting out righteous justice known as The Punisher. When Yakuza boss Lady Tanaka begins a gang war for control with the Italian mob by kidnapping the children of the Heads of Families, the cunning Gianni Franco enlists Castle's help in rescuing the kids, his son being one of them.The fact that The Punisher's 1st screen avatar starred Dolph Lundgren (Sweden's premier wood export after Ikea) as the titular avenger doomed it to the DVD dungeons of C-Grade actioners from the get go. Director Mark Goldblatt (ace editor behind The Terminator, Terminator 2, Commando and Starship Troopers) working from a script by Boaz Yakin (the only shocker is that this is the same Boaz Yakin who would go on to helm the engrossing indie Urban drama Fresh), firmly anchors the film in it's B-Movie roots and taken as such, The Punisher is almost as much cheesy fun as Lundgren's other Yakuza-themed actioner, Showdown In Little Tokyo stopping just short of the latter's gleefully racist Asian caricatures, although Kim Miyori's scary Lady Tanaka skirts pretty close to the exotic Dragon lady archetype. Small points are scored by director Goldblatt for having the knife-wielding and butt-kicking female not be an Asian but blonde European Zoshka Mizak (wisely given no speaking lines) as is the casting of the reliable Jeroen Krabbe as the slimy Franco. What Lou Gossett Jr's doing here is anybody's guess (but the fact that he followed an Oscar winning turn in An Officer And A Gentleman with the Iron Eagle movies is a potent clue that canny role selection isn't one of his notable talents).His Jake Berkowitz, Castle's former partner and pretty much the only one who believes he's alive after the car bomb that wiped out his family is supposed to provide some sort of moral anchor for Castle's revenge-fueled rampage, but anytime he and insipid blonde partner Nancy Everhard are on screen is dead space. It's the action you come for and Goldblatt stages them with enough efficiency to stifle yawns with Castle and Franco's climactic siege of Tanaka's stronghold providing some snappy martial arts ass-kickery (Lundgren's own Karate expertise comes in handy).Lundgren has the height and bulk to inhabit the leather jacket-wearing, Harley driving and sewer dwelling Castle but lacks suitable menace to fully realise the punishment- meting vigilante. And the skull T-Shirt is conspicuously absent.Exit Dolph Lundgren, enter Thomas Jane... The Punisher (2004)When ex-Special Forces, Ex-FBI agent Frank Castle's wife, son and pretty much his entire family is wiped out by vengeful mobste[...]

The Shadow Of The Wind


(image) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It comes encumbered with the baggage of being compared to "One Hundred years of Solitude" and "The Name Of The Rose", but has neither the Magic Realism of a Marquez nor Eco's frequent digressions into semiotics-influenced discourses on Middle Age politics, philosophy and theology.

What Carlos Ruiz Zafon's gives you is pure escapism. Shadow Of The Wind is pure Gothic Melodrama replete with the heated passions and heady emotions without which the genre itself becomes pretty pointless.

Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in a Barcelona under the Franco dictatorship, Shadow tells the tale of Daniel Sempere, initiated by his book seller father into the secret Cemetary of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten tomes lovingly looked after by old caretaker Isaac Montfort. Tradition dictates that initiates to this forgotten library adopt one book and keep it safe for life.

When Daniel quickly becomes a fan of Julian Carax, author of his chosen book (the titular Shadow Of The Wind)and discovers that a horribly disfigured man who goes by the moniker of one of the book's characters Lain Courbert, is systematically hunting down and burning every copy of Carax's novels, he is plunged into a mystery to uncover Courbert's origins while evading the attentions of the ruthlessly sadistic Inspector Fumero and navigating a passionate but potentially doomed romance with the gorgeouus sister of his best friend.

Scratch beneath it's potboiler surface and some scenes of genuine pathos appear. Shadow is ultimately a novel of unfulfilled longing and unrequited love, with Julian's tragic life at it's epicentre, his downward spiral into sadness, despair, melancholy and ultimately rage at his failed romance with the rich and beautiful Penelope Aldaya fuelling the plot and rippling outwards to envelope and affect the lives of several characters in the book in dramatic and even horrible ways.

As chief protagonist and narrator, Daniel is blandness personified while Fumero never breaks out of the Evil Incarnate sketch he's boxed in. And Zafon proves himself the flip side of Isabel Allende in his inability to write convincingly about the opposite sex. See an echo of Allende's continued potrayal of all Latin men as macho, boorish rapists in Zafon's shading of his female characters as gorgeous femme fatales and nothing more.

So breathe a sigh of sharp relief for Fermin Romero de Torres, the best realised character of the book. Daniels' best friend, his father's assistant, an ex-spy and rakish lover, Fermin's magisterial lectures on women, romance and politics provide some much needed relief from the relentless melodrama.

Spiced with steamy sex, graphic violence, a crackling mystery and passionate romances, The Shadow Of The Wind is the perfect beach/flight/lazy morning/rainy night read. A crackling read as long as you're not looking for Marquez's Magic or Eco's Echo.

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Tome: The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao


(image) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars
Relentlessly depressing saga of overweight Dominican lad who's into sci-fi and women and achieves success in neither. Oscar starts the book a loser and ends it dead. With frequent digressions into his mothers's and sister's equally sad-sack lives, large chunks of untranslated Spanish and a whopper of a cheat coda, Junot Diaz' book is a turgid slog through Misery Land. Avoid.

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Tome: Sweet Heart


(image) Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Proof positive that the most beguilling of serial killers need to remain on the outer fringes of a plot, not at it's centre. The beautiful and evil Gretchen Lowell's dalliance with super-messed up Detective Archie Sheridan is the main thrust here in this follow up to Cain's debut Heart Sick, and not just a tantalising side note, and is all the poorer for it. Only if you have nothing else to reach for for a quick read.

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Tome: Chasing Darkness


(image) Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Latest Elvis Cole is a gripper after the so-so The Watchman. Pacy narrative, twisty plot and for once after a long time Elvis just gets on with the job without the encumbrance of whiny (ex) girlfriend Lucy hovering nearby to put a damper on things. Bring on the next one, Mr. Crais!

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Tome: The Messenger


(image) The Messenger by Daniel Silva

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Silva's 6th Gabriel Allon book continues the Master Terrorist plot riff from the previous Prince Of Fire while cribbing another from the first Allon book The Kill Artist: That of using a beautiful woman to trap a terrorist master-mind. Considerable time is taken on the set-up and "prepping the bait". And some effective tension is generated when Allen's undercover operation is blown and neccesitates a race against time to rescue a beautiful Jewish woman before her death at the hands of evil murderous Arabs. If the tone of this review sounds racist, then it's merely echoing Silva's surprisingly Arabo-phobic tone in this book. Granted when one makes a series' hero a top spy for the Israeli Secret Service, you announce where your allegiance in this conflict lies from the get go. But Silva who has so far managed a balanced tone in his previous spy thrillers with the Arab-Israel conflict providing the background, leans heavily on the Zionist angle here, which makes it the lesser entry in the series for me. And having not one, but TWO assassination attempts in the heart of the Vatican over the course of a single book is stretching incredulity.

And those expecting some much-deserved come-uppance for the Chief Baddie will be sorely disappointed in the perfunctory way he's dispatched off (not the first time Silva's had this problem, by the way).

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Tome: The Ritual


(image) Ritual by Mo Hayder

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mo Hayder's return to the Jack Caffery series is a mixed bag. Definitely not on par with the hyper-gory Birdman or the disturbing The Treatment, it relocates Caffery to Bristol where along with a new soon-to-be recurring series character, police diver Flea Marley, he investigates the discovery of a severed human hand in the harbour.

The key problem is, the plot which is interesting though hardly outstanding hardly needs Caffery, who could have been substituted by any Detective. Marley's own baggage with regards to the drowning death of her parents and Caffery's encounter with a peripatetic vagabond known as the Walking Man, hardly adds anything to the story

The biggest cheat for fans of Birdman and The Treatment will be Hayder's jettisoning of a key sub-plot running through the first 2 Caffery books: that of the fate of Ewan Caffery, Jack's younger brother, kidnapped by paedophilic neighbour Pendericki.

Writing's still first-rate, and it's an ok enough time-pass, but hardly vintage Hayder. That honour still belongs to the masterful Tokyo.

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Graphic Tome: The Watchmen


(image) Watchmen by Alan Moore

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
If James Ellroy ever linked his dark, nihilistic prose to pictures, Watchmen may well be the birthed hybrid. A deconstruction of the Superhero mythos, a dark noirish murder mystery, a meditation on Time and Life, a Global Conspiracy shot through with Cold War paranoia (the only aspect of the book that has dated somewhat), Watchmen is quite simply put....Magnificent. Read it. Again and Again.

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Graphic Tome: Persepolis


(image) The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
One woman's escape and return to a brutally patriarchal society. The Kite Runner, if set in Iran, if it's narrator's gender were switched, and told in pictures. A good read though hardly spectacular.

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Tome: A Short History Of Nearly Everything


(image) A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fascinating science primer that crash-courses Astronomy, Chemistry, Geology and various other scientific branches into a riveting narrative of life and how so much of it and our existence is scarily linked to random chance. Fascinating.

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Tome: The Broken Window


(image) The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Deaver injects some sorely needed menace into the In-Danger-Of Becoming-Rote Lincoln Rhyme series. The 8th Rhyme book sees the quadriplegic forensic Einstein and red-haired partner and lover Amelia Sachs go against a master manipulator of online data. Solid procedural, and as is always the case with Deaver, a crash course on the dangers of the easy availability of personal info just a mouse-click away in today's digital society.

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Tome: The Brass Verdict


(image) The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Connelly's second attempt to tag-team his series' heroes once again has his more compelling creation get the short end of the stick. Harry Bosch is reduced to a series of extended cameos in what is basically the second Mickey Haller book (after his terrific debut in The Lincoln Lawyer). Haller inherits the case load and a heck of a lot of trouble from a murdered colleague. Bosch proves more of a hindrance than help. Solid plotting from Connelly as usual, but why drag Bosch into this?

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Tome: Bad Luck And Trouble


(image) Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Marked improvement over Reacher No.10, Reacher 11 has our peripatetic wanderer join forces with his ex-Army cohorts to get to the bottom of the deaths of certain members of their ex-Elite team, and deal out some righteous vengeance. The action is fast, furious and ultimately satisfying.

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Tome: The Overlook


(image) The Overlook by Michael Connelly

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The 13th Harry Bosch novel greatly benefits from its truncated length (it was originally serialised in a newspaper). Investigating a murder which quickly escalates into a terrorist threat, Harry re-teams with FBI agent Rachel Walling. Bosch remains compelling, Walling equal parts fascinating and irritating.

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