Thursday, April 17, 2014

FARGO TV Series a Dark, Quirky Crime Drama

The movie Fargo, from Joel and Ethan Coen, is a Neo-Noir masterpiece with a stupid criminal plan gone wrong, deadpan black humor, and dumbly out-of-control violence.

That's a lot for the new TV series based on the movie to live up to. But based on the pilot episode, the new series is off to a promising start.

Familiar plot elements from the movie are present: The snowy, white blank landscape of rural Minnesota; earnest, slow thinking small town cops; a hapless local businessman who gets himself ensnared in a web of lies and criminal acts.

At the center of it all is a sinister figure -- a cold blooded contract killer whose presence is like an amoral catalyst that triggers a chain of violent events wherever he travels.

The great theme of the Coen Brothers has always been their bleak, fatalistic view of humanity, and the misguided acts people undertake which lead inexorably to their own downfalls.

The Fargo TV series is faithful to that theme, offering a pitch black, quirky crime drama, and moments of wild, spontaneous violence that change all that follows.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

THE ACCIDENT a Gripping, Unconventional Thriller

The Accident by Chris Pavone is an unusual thriller about  a dangerous new book manuscript that powerful people want to stop from being published.

The manuscript by an anonymous author is an expose of famous media tycoon Charlie Wolfe. The book reveals a sickening crime in Wolfe's past, as well as the secret links between Wolfe's media conglomerate and the CIA.

Veteran CIA agent Hayden Gray heads an unofficial black operation to destroy all copies of the manuscript and eliminate anyone who has had access to it. Literary agent Isabel Reed, an editor, and a publishing executive, among others, find their everyday work lives suddenly put into mortal danger.

The Accident is an atypical suspense thriller set against the unexpected background of the book publishing world. The fast paced plot is a great read as the book people flee from a hot manuscript that just might end up getting them killed.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RESURRECTION a Creepy Metaphysical Mystery

Resurrection (ABC TV) is a new series about long dead people suddenly reappearing alive in a small Missouri town.

The story premise is startling. The deceased people reappear just as they looked physically at the times of their deaths years earlier. How can this be happening? Is there a scientific answer? Is it a religious miracle? Or is some other metaphysical anomaly taking place?

No explanation for the returned deceased people is offered. They're just there, that's all. The TV series is based on the novel "The Returned" by Jason Mott. No explanation for the returned people is given in the book either.

This is a problem. We've been burned before by TV series which begin with an intriguing paranormal enigma (Alcatraz, Flash Forward) and then the series is cancelled before the mystery is ever resolved.

It's not enough to create a gripping plot enigma, then leave it hanging there with no real resolution. The TV series Lost managed to finish with a semi-answer to its paranormal mystery, though not a fully satisfying one.

Resurrection showed strong potential with its pilot episode. It's fine to let the mystery of the returned people encourage viewer speculation over what's really going on. But the series can't simply leave it at that. No answers at all would be an ultimate cop-out.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

CLOSED CIRCUIT a Paranoid British Legal Thriller

Closed Circuit, now out on DVD, is a paranoid depiction of a closed British terrorism trial and the sinister role of the national security service, MI-5, in manipulating the outcome of that trial.

An Islamic radical is on trial as the mastermind behind a truck bombing in the heart of London. A government advocate barrister is assigned to defend the accused man. The trial is closed to the press and public to protect classified security information.

What the barrister doesn't know is that the accused terrorist was a secret informant working for MI-5 at the same time he was plotting the bombing. MI-5 will go to any lengths to prevent this secret from coming out, up and including the assassination of witnesses, if necessary.

Closed Circuit is a tense, murky suspense movie that was underrated when it was released. But it's real impact lies in the harsh view it takes of the illegal, coldly ruthless actions of the MI-5 agency. The security service is made the true villain of the film as a necessary evil to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

The film is timely in light of recent revelations about NSA spying and secret FISA Court hearings in the U.S. But the biggest problem for Closed Circuit is whether is goes much too far in portraying a British national security agency as a public enemy in its own right.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Inspector Rebus Returns in SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin marks the return of the iconic character John Rebus of the Edinburgh, Scotland police in a dark new mystery.

Rebus was formerly retired, but couldn't stay away from police work for long. He's back working an investigation of a suspicious car crash, along with his long-time partner, Siobhan Clarke. The crash details don't add up and Rebus senses a cover-up of something crucial. His dogged pursuit leads him into conflict with powerful people, a scuffle the testy Rebus clearly relishes.

At the same time, a police Internal Affairs unit, led by Rebus nemesis, Malcolm Fox, is digging into a cold case from decades earlier. It's an open murder case in which a close-knit group of Rebus police pals may be involved, and Rebus may find his own loyalties tested.

The plot is intriguing and John Rebus is at his entertaining best with his trademark blunt rudeness and deep cynicism. Saints of the Shadow Bible is a first rate read and will certainly be on the list of the best mystery novels of this year.

Monday, January 20, 2014

GOING DARK an Eco-Terrorism Thriller

Going Dark by James W. Hall is a gripping crime novel about a planed attack on a nuclear reactor facility by a bunch of environmental extremists.

The novel is set in south Florida and is the latest in the series to feature main character, Thorn, a rugged outdoors man loner who lives in Key Largo. The Thorn novels by James Hall are outstanding for their descriptive portrayal of the natural ecology of Florida. Thorn's deep disgust at the loss of the state's wilderness areas to relentless development is an ongoing theme in the novel series.

Going Dark involves the huge Turkey Point reactor south of Biscayne Bay and the city of Miami. The potential consequences of massive radioactive contamination by the eco-terrorist attack are scary to imagine. Thorn gets entangled against his will in the attack plot, at the same time that an FBI team is trying to track the terrorists. The climactic scenes when the nuclear plant is breached are truly harrowing.

Going Dark is a great read as both a hard-edged crime novel and as an unsettling warning about continuing environmental threats to a natural paradise.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THE CIRCLE a Sinister Portrayal of Social Media Culture

The Circle by Dave Eggers is a creepy depiction of both the pervasive influence and the potential threat of massive social media networks.

The Circle is the name of a popular social media community which seems like a mix of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon all rolled into one encompassing network.

When Mae Holland gets a coveted job at The Circle, she is awestruck by the perfectly conceived design of the corporate campus and the perfectly aligned functions of The Circle's operating model.

At The Circle, community joining and sharing is the ultimate value above all else. Complete transparency of the individual lives of all Circle members is required. Accepted Circle principles include:
                         All That Happens Must Be Known
                         Secrets Are Lies
                         Privacy Is Theft
                         Nothing Is Ever Deleted

As Mae Holland gets ever more deeply immersed in her life within The Circle network, she loses connection with all else. Her only self-reality is that of The Circle, but the true believer Mae is blind to any such consequences.

Meanwhile, the reach of The Circle into all aspects of human lives continues to grow. The next goal is that all citizens be required to have a Circle account. No one may opt out anymore from joining. The Circle plan for absolute watching and knowing about everyone is being put into motion.

The Circle is not a suspense novel and it has little real plot. But the novel is a timely and chilling dystopian portrayal of an insidious social media presence that in many respects is already here.