Monthly Archives: December 2003

Dennis Lehane – Darkness, Take My Hand

Keeping a detective series going for several books requires a lot of very intense cases to come the detective’s way. The lives of real-world PIs are rarely that interesting. I’m usually happy enough to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the thrill, but I tend to balk when it comes to psycho serial killers. It’s like a group of teens in a horror film splitting up when the lights go out. There’s a sadistic lunatic murderer out there and you plan to outwit him…yourself? Without the help of hundreds of police officers? Also, in order to make the case matter to the detective, the psycho has to strike close to home, and that tends to be one coincidence too far for me.

Dennis Lehane does very well with this book, though. He seems to specialise in tales where a group of loosely connected people share a much tighter common past, and an incident that bound them together forever, or else split their bonds completely. The killings that take place around Patrick Kenzie here have little in common, at first glance, other than Kenzie himself. The killer seems to be going out of his way to entangle Kenzie in the whole mess, to threaten him, and to teach him an obscure but deadly lesson.

The police and the FBI do get involved in the case, and they are instrumental in taking the killer down eventually, but the book is about much more than just solving a series of murders. In the course of the story, it brings the characters face to face with the most shocking evil and violence and forces them to answer the question: what would you do? How far would you go to save your family and friends if they were threatened? It’s a fascinating and scary look into the dark depths of human capabilities. Gripping right to the very end.

Dennis Lehane – A Drink Before The War

This is the first of Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro detective series, and it’s amazingly good. Patrick Kenzie is hired by a trio of politician friends of his father’s to retrieve some documents that a cleaning woman stole from one of their offices. When he and Angie Gennaro track down the woman, they discover that the politicians aren’t the only ones looking for her, and that their motives for retrieving the documents are less than pure. The woman is murdered, and in the wake of this killing, Kenzie and Gennaro find themselves cast into the middle of a gang war spilling out into the streets of Boston. Patrick Kenzie is a strong, well-drawn character, and Angie Gennaro provides an complex foil for his self-destructive impulses. The book is filled with dark wit and gritty observations on race, class, and corruption. It’s both tense and thoughtful, and makes for a seriously gripping read.

Pirates of the Caribbean

How can this film not put a smile on your face? It’s a classic mix of pirates, sword fights, cursed treasure, and a love story. Pirate films, like Westerns, seem to belong to a bygone age of Hollywood film making. We’ll never see them back in full force, but precisely because of their absence, Pirates of the Caribbean is a unique breath of fresh air, touched with nostalgia and spiced with grand adventure. Johnny Depp throws his whole heart into the utterly over-the-top Captain Jack Sparrow; Orlando Bloom does the honest young man battling to save the girl he loves; and Geoffrey Rush is the wicked Captain Barbossa, doomed to a life of undead misery until he finds the last piece of Aztec Gold. Every set piece is big and bold, filled with explosive action. All the pirate stereotypes and clichés are present and accounted for, but brushed down and jazzed up for (post) modern times. A rollickin’ good romp, poppet. Yarrr!

A Guy Thing

Dull romantic comedy about a man who wakes up the morning after his stag party with a strange woman in his bed. There are a few genuinely funny moments, but mostly it’s a tired rehash of in-law and pre-wedding jokes. The cast all seem horribly out of place and uncomfortable delivering their lines for laughs. They look like they’re desperate to bring more depth to their characters, but the rom-com format doesn’t allow them to sparkle. There is also a complete lack of on-screen chemistry between any of the character pairings. All in all, it’s just flat as a pancake.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

It’s not unusual for me to get all bunged up at a powerful or emotional ending of a film. It is unusual for me to cry four or five times throughout the film. Film fans will endlessly debate whether this is one of the best films of all time, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that it’s one of the greatest. If you liked the first two episodes of the trilogy, there is almost no way you’ll be disappointed by this finale. It’s amazing.

Iain Banks – Raw Spirit

This is Iain Banks’s first non-fiction book, and he has done a brilliant job of it. It’s a pretty natural fit for him to write a book about scotch malt whisky, but although the goal of the book is nominally to find the “perfect dram”, he writes as much about his love of driving around Scotland as he does about whisky itself. If you’ve ever heard Banks speak, or hung out with him in a bar, you’ll recognize his voice in this narrative. It’s similar to the style of his novels, but much more relaxed and free-flowing. His last few novels have felt a little bit jaded and tired; Raw Spirit is fresh again. As well as bagging every single malt whisky distillery in Scotland in a variety of interesting cars, he rolls out bundles of anecdotes and rambles about whatever crosses his path in the course of his “research.” Raw Spirit is a funny, informative, and totally delightful read.

Calendar Girls

Touching true story (“based on”) about a breakaway faction of the middle-class, middle-England Knapely branch of the Women’s Institute. One year, instead of doing a traditional calendar featuring scenic bridges and churches, they decided to do a nude calendar with themselves as models. Their goal was to raise money for charity, and they found success and renown far in excess of their initial modest goals.

The story starts off small, focusing on a couple of characters (Chris and Annie, brilliantly played by Helen Mirren and Julie Walters), and the reason for doing the calendar in the first place. It then expands to cover more of the women of the village, and folds their stories into the mix. The film loses focus in the third part, when the calendar becomes a huge success, and the women travel to America on a promotional tour. At this point, we’ve just had a major climactic moment. The screenplay struggles to turn the emotional conflict around, and to re-examine the relationship between Chris and Annie. It does produce an adequate resolution in the end, but the effort of doing so obliterates several sub-plots that I had hoped would get more attention. Still, it’s a lovely film, full of laughs and touching personal triumphs.

Brother Bear

Relatively poor Disney animation about a man who is magically turned into a bear to teach him a lesson about brotherhood and love. In places it’s funny, sad, and touching, but mostly it’s just very heavy-handed. It’s about LOVE, right? LOVE can be just as powerful and important as wisdom and courage. Be one with nature, young man/bear, and all will be well with the world. I know I’m not the film’s intended audience (Alex is, and he enjoyed it to the point where he was been pretending to be a little bear all last week), but surely even children can see that this film treads on the wrong side of the line between innocent and naïve.


Dumbed-down medieval time-travel romp. A group of archaeologists go back to 1357 to rescue a stranded colleague. They find themselves thrown headlong into a battle between the English and French at the village of Castleguard. Naturally, there is a lot of splitting up so that everyone can chase after each other, or get killed, or both. (Oh, and a pretty nifty castle siege with trebuchets and flaming arrows.) Meanwhile, back in the present, someone has blown up the time machine, and the geeks are trying to put it back together before the deadline for the archaeologists’ return arrives. It’s all a bit hurried, forced, and obvious. From the moment the group of time travellers is selected, you know who’s going to make it back, who’s going to die, and who’s going to get stranded. The film has got good pace, but no soul.


Perfectly competent action thriller. Jim Street (Colin Farrell) is the lead character, but it’s essentially a “team” film. Sgt. Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson) builds an underdog team, and then trains them into a superteam. The team is thrown into action. The team faces adversity and betrayal, but pulls through in the end to save the day. Jim Street’s personal vendetta ends up intricately tied to the team’s battle, and the two plot lines converge in a satisfying climax. The editing is a bit rough in places, but apart from that it puts a solid tick in all of the action thriller boxes and ends up as a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours of cinema time.