Tag Archives: mystery

Jack Reacher

Okay, admission time. Tom Cruise is one of those people you’re just supposed to not like, and considering the way he turned Katie Holmes from an actress into a birthing pod for a few years while simultaneously trying to do the most damage to the mental health industry since we elected an actor to the presidency, well, I get why it would be fair not to like him. But Katie Holmes has been set free and there haven’t been any bizarre mouthpiece moments in a while, and pretty much from the scenes where he made fun of himself in Tropic Thunder until now, the man hasn’t made a bad movie. Which is still probably not enough reason to like him, but dammit, the man has charisma on the screen.

It was my mom who picked us going to see Jack Reacher though, not me. Since I retroactively consider this to be a good decision, it’s probably not fair to disclaim the choice, but, y’know. So, I don’t know much about those books and I didn’t know much about the movie except that action would occur and also that some people were pissed about casting a wiry dude who is probably shorter than me to play a 250 pound slab of giant on the page. (Which, incidentally, has anyone read those? Are they any good? Because my unread bookshelf is not already groaning under its current load or anything.)

…I suppose I’ve given away, by now, that I liked it? Because yeah, if this turned into a franchise, I would keep watching. There’s this guy who has very obviously, with evidence all over the damn place, just sniper-murdered a group of five people walking around on their lunch breaks at the waterfront, but he says he didn’t do it and asks them to fetch along Jack Reacher. Reacher shows up, and, under unlikely circumstances, starts investigating what really happened. And instead of punching his way through everyone involved like the previews kind of implied, there’s a smartly written mystery to be unraveled, with lots of tension and comedy to break the tension, and you know, I laughed frequently and all the characters worked, and what more do I need? Plus, Tom Cruise makes for a pretty great PI type. Also, no worries, there is in fact a lot of the gunplay and car chases and judo that you’d expect from an action movie after all, but there’s a lot more here than what I expected is all I’m saying.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

MV5BMTgwNjEwODcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU3MDY5Ng@@._V1__SX1217_SY911_You know those Swedish books everyone has read and Swedish movies everyone has seen, and now there’s an American version of the same stuff? Yeah, I never did any of that, so I showed up for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo knowing nothing except what was in the previews, that an investigative journalist and a punk hacker join forces to solve a forty or fifty year old murder. I will add for the purposes of anyone who did come in like me with no idea of what was going on that said team-up, while natural and organic, took a good long while to accomplish, so it was kind of unsettling (from a story balance perspective) to watch Daniel Craig all embroiled in plot progression while this justifiably angry chick was just kind of living her life and developing her character and seemingly completely uninvolved with anything else in the other scenes.

The pay-off, of course, is that Lisbeth Salander is Incredibly Cool. So, totally worth it, just briefly unsettling. Speaking of unsettling things, I should mention every other part of the movie, because I assure you it does not pull any punches. You will see things nobody should really ought to see, and you will meet a spectacularly dysfunctional (yet entirely plausible, just like the eventual team-up was from earlier) family, and you will probably care about what happens to any and all of them. Which is part of why the “no punches pulled” part of the movie is even rougher than you think it is. And you will find that research can in fact have dramatic tension. You may find that Trent Reznor’s soundtrack, while every bit as meaningfully atmospheric as the act of filming a scene outside in Sweden is, sometimes drowns out the dialogue. So that’s unfortunate but it’s really the only thing I didn’t like. Rumor has it that the book is pretty hard to read, so I suppose I’ll just stick to the sequels.

One thing I wonder, though: are we meant to care that she has a dragon tattoo? Other than its existence, I could not find any underlying purpose for it, neither in subtext nor plain text alike. It’s cool if it was just an identifier, but I can’t help wondering. (Another thing I wonder is whether it is possible for a Swedish film to be non-bleak? Is it like a climate thing, or does the happy stuff just never get exported?)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Things the Sherlock Holmes sequel did right, in no particular order:

Less action-for-the-sake-of-action feeling to it than the original. Sequences that showed the inner workings of Holmes’ mind; not so much how he is eight steps ahead of anyone else, but at least the demonstrable fact that he is. (Though maybe the first one did too? I can’t recall.) Sufficient use of Doyle’s canon that I was able to anticipate certain events and recognize others. Robert Downey Jr. Stephen Fry. Still excellent Holmes/Watson chemistry.

Things the movie did wrong, in no particular order:

Y’know, I got nothing. It was light and fun and better than its progenitor, and what more do you really need? Oh, right, if you care, blah blah Moriarty, anarchists, gypsies, unstable Europe, Reichenbach. That should pretty well ought to cover it, except to promise that you will laugh.

Powers: Forever

81rp8fcRC7LIf I remember correctly, the previous volume of Powers marked a major shift in the way things work, with said Powers being basically outlawed altogether. (Which only makes a limited kind of sense in a world with supervillains, but roll with it.) Naturally, therefore, Forever picks up… at the beginning of time. What?!

No, actually, it’s pretty cool. If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of superheroism in the world, or also about the secret history of now-police detective Christian Walker, and if you haven’t wondered about that last bit by now we aren’t reading the same books, then this is a can’t miss entry in the series.[1] Except to warn you that it’s a historical interlude with no apparent bearing on the future, there’s almost nothing else I can say. No, not true, I can say that it’s good. And that it has really unexpected monkey vagina. (Is there another kind? …if you’re not a monkey?)

[1] Someday, I will probably still not understand people being able to skip a book in a series.

Dexter by Design

With every Dexter book I read, I am less and less convinced that he’s anywhere near as smart as he thinks he is. I haven’t decided how I feel about that, I think because television Dexter is so much more on the ball. He’s not hyper-effective, but he doesn’t strike me as ever more inaccurately-pompous in each succeeding season either. See, and this is no good, because it’s starting to sound like (as of Dexter by Design) I actually dislike the character now, and that’s not it. It’s just that I am snickering at him, and I cannot imagine snickering at the TV character. Or maybe it’s that it’s harder to be okay with his plan to thin the world’s population of murderers if I become less and less sure that he actually knows what he’s doing. On the bright side, he’s at least still likable in his blunders and pratfalls, at least for now.

In this particular book, the Dark Passenger’s supernatural origins take the back seat, just as I had hoped, in favor of a more prosaic killer who is nevertheless quite artful in his arrangement of the bodies he is leaving scattered across Miami. None of which would seem out of place for the two-thirds of a TV episode devoted to the killer of the week instead of a season-long plot, except that this particular killer has a bone to pick with Dexter, and he has far more than enough information to pick that, uh, bone[1] quite masterfully indeed. As if that weren’t enough, Deborah is in danger and the cops are closing in. Hooray for a light summer’s thriller! (And yeah, I’m nearly positive that reading the book during last week’s camping trip made it better than it would have otherwise been. Setting matters, y’all.)

[1] It turns out that metaphor only works in the passive voice. Who knew?

Powers: Sellouts

In a way, Sellouts is the exact same book that Supergroup was, they just changed Marvel to DC before writing it. In another way, it’s the biggest book in the Powers series since the first one, because this is where everything changes. Obviously I cannot talk about the second part of that claim, so I’ll have to explain the first part. Imagine if the Justice League of America was full of people who hate each other and are no longer concerned with fighting the supervillains much at all, instead renting out their Hall of Justice for tours and merchandising. Imagine further if Batman were to be embroiled in a sex scandal in which an underaged girl was dressed up in the Robin outfit, seducing him, on film. This is like that, except these statements are not spoilers, they are the premise of the book. Things start getting bad after all that is established. (The names have, of course, been changed to protect the guilty.)

Really, that’s what makes it work for me, is that a lot of such stories would be rolling for shock value. And while that is a little bit true here, don’t get me wrong, it is still primarily a springboard to examine dire consequences, and I like how they laid it out. This established, I have a bit of a gripe about Deena Pilgrim. Well, not about her, but… this is a buddy cop noir drama thing, right? The thing about buddy cops is, they are both the main character, billing split right down the middle. So why is it that Deena has been shown naked not only more often than her partner, but in fact more often than any other character in the series? I will never oppose nudity in my art, full stop. That is a known quantity in any disinterested observer’s evaluation of me. But that doesn’t mean some characters aren’t being exploited, and I do object to that. ‘Cause, seriously, what gives? How are you supposed to be a credible main character if the author or director or whoever is exploiting you?

It occurs to me belatedly that the title may have had more relevance than I thought. In any case, I hope something is done to adjust the balance. This be uncool, as it stands.

Powers: Anarchy

The thing that is sad about my review of Anarchy is that it will sound like I didn’t like it, when the worst I have to say about it is that I didn’t love it. The characters are still top-notch, or I should probably pass that through my filter of liking things too strongly and say instead that I continue to find them compelling. But the plot of this particular issue was really just forgettable. It was tasty forgettable, don’t get me wrong, but like when you eat light popcorn and then later you suddenly want actual food? It’s like that. I know that there were some superhero murders that tied back into the comic’s earlier days and that may well become very important later for that matter, but in the moment, it was just a glimpse of places we’d been before with people I’m happy to accompany, sure; and restoring the status quo (which had been really strongly upset by the end of the last book) was probably a good idea, but I could wish it had been more exciting to get there.

On the bright side, the book isn’t a thousand pages long and I didn’t have to wait two or more years to read it, so the standard complaints really don’t apply.

Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams

They may eventually get bad, but so far, I cannot say enough good things about the Silent Hill series. And unlike last time, this is one I had… well, okay, I had played it before, but I never finished. Last time was spooky and inexplicably satanic, I think? Whereas Silent Hill 2 (and, I hope, the future entries as well) was deeply psychological, with no hallucinogenic drug rings to be seen. I should first mention that although the 360 claims backward compatibility, there were still some sound bugs, less bad than last time but still present, and also I found out an hour in that you can only have one save game slot, total, or the whole thing falls apart. So that bit of replaying sucked.

But the rest of the time? Awesome stuff. See, there’s this guy James, and he’s come back to Silent Hill where he and his wife Mary had the best vacation of their lives, years before, because Mary has sent him a letter asking that he meet at their “special place”. Only, Mary’s been dead for three years, the town is mostly abandoned and all the roads into it are blocked, and the people he does meet are split between disturbing homicidal creatures, seemingly disturbed humans, an oblivious child, and a doppelganger of his dead wife, a stripper named Maria. Oh, and a hulking, unstoppable brute with a giant sword and a red pyramid-shaped helmet who is bar none the scariest dude I’ve ever seen in a video game.

In the midst of these dangers, James must unravel the mystery of his wife’s summons and the dark history of the town, and in some ways, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All this amidst the best kind of bump-in-the-night sounds, a moody score, and halfway decent graphics. Even while playing the short prequel with backstory on Maria after I finished the main sequence, there still managed to be a moment when I got an accidental adrenaline jolt from an unexpected bad guy popping up in front of me. I am impressed, it’s been awhile since a game managed that!


What’s that, you say? You want to see a really, really weird movie? Let me recommend Audition, in which an aging Japanese widower mocks up a TV show in order to get girls in to audition for one of the parts, when in reality they are auditioning to be his new girlfriend. And… well, the thing is, anything beyond the premise is a spoiler, including honestly the ways in which I have categorized the type of movie. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure we both know you aren’t gonna go see this, so I am obligated to make this a conversation by elaborating. If you are in fact planning to see it, therefore, please disregard anything below this paragraph. (Oh, and my short answer is that it is worth seeing, I’m not trying to trick you over here.)

So, there are a number of open debate topics around the way the movie played out. First, there’s the widower guy. His whole plan sounds really damn creepy in a one-line sentence, no denying. And he is clearly entrenched in what is apparently Japan’s paternalistic relationship culture. But I couldn’t bring myself to look too unfavorably upon him, because despite his wealthy-version-of-a-stalker means, his heart really did seem to be in the right place. So I wonder if I’m taking that all wrong[1], and one of the points of the movie is that he did in fact deserve… well, okay, that’s too much spoiler even for me.

And then there’s our star auditioner, about whom… well, she is in fact my biggest open question. The only solid hints of her history we get seem to be from the perspective of someone else’s hallucination, so she is by and large a complete cipher to me. Does she believe herself wronged by, well, various people? Has she been extensively wronged in the recent and/or distant past? Is she simply insane? Is it a hefty combination of all of the above? Perhaps it’s okay that I don’t know, and perhaps, as per my footnote below, she plays a role instead of a character. I hope not, as it’s the same trap that her role is being used to punish, if so; just a different angle on it.

Anyway… by and large, the thought exercise presented here was better than the movie itself. Probably this is because it bucked my expectations via its near glacial pacing, and for no other reason directly related to the plotting or acting. But even if I’m objectively right, I will never call a movie that put this much contemplation into my brain anything less than good.

[1] For one thing, I started to say that there’s no counter-example in the film of someone interacting with the opposite sex on more equal footing[2], but then I remembered that his son seems to do fine. And while I will be the first to take notice of how meeting people only gets harder as time passes, there are still reasons to believe his counter-example is central to the themes of the film.
[2] Heh.

The Alienist

On recommendation of one of my graphic-novel-sharing friends, I picked up a turn of the 20th Century mystery book, The Alienist. (And, seriously, it was recommended several times, and has been mentioned several times more while I’ve owned it unread. Which is not a complaint about my pushy, pushy friend, it’s a wry nod to my massively overflowing bookshelf.) But the point is, I got to it, only to find (unsurprisingly) that everything I heard was true! It is in fact a pretty darn good fiction about the genesis of modern police procedure set against the trashy, immigrant-filled slums of New York City’s 1896. It occasionally bordered on feeling too modern, but never quite got there, all while managing to have a shockingly strong female protagonist in the cast, an occasionally Holmesian feel, and special guest appearances by Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Ranhofer. Oh, and “the first” serial killer. That may not actually be something for everyone, but it’s something for just about everyone I want to know.