The Westing Game (1978) by Ellen Raskin

Categories: 1978, Books, and Fiction.

This is the kind of novel all kids should read. I am far too old for this type of book now but, as a child or tween, this would have been great. It feels like a legitimate game (it’s basically a far more complicated version of Clue with character development) and its humour is rooted in character and well-known stereotypes (in the sense of debunking them). It’s a crime this book wasn’t turned into a kid’s adventure film in the 80s, ala Goonies. Read More

Shit Town (2017)

Categories: 2017 and Podcasts.

Shit Town, known as S Town in its marketing because the US is a country full of prudes whose heads will explode if they hear the word “shit” in public, is a remarkable new podcast from This American Life. It is unlike any other podcast I’ve heard so far, in fact. If you were one of the many people put off by the second season of Serial and have decided to pass on Shit Town (I mean S Town) I strongly suggest you give this one at least two episodes. Some mild SPOILERS are coming. I suggest not reading any further until you’ve listened to Read More

The Limehouse Golem (2016, Juan Carlos Medina)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

This is an atmospheric and entertaining period mystery/horror film that struggles with both telling and tone but which is mostly entertaining. My biggest issues were with the time-hoping – there are flashbacks throughout the film and flashbacks within flashbacks, a particular pet peeve of mine – as well as with the tone of the very serious, very procedural mystery versus the campy/darkly comic imaginings of the crimes. They were enjoyable, but they often felt out of place with the rest of the film. SPOILERS Read More

A Case of Need (1968) by Michael Crichton writing as Jeffery Hudson

Categories: 1968, Books, and Fiction.

This is a real page turner and it’s easy to see why it’s the book that properly launched Crichton’s career: it’s full of detailed information about contemporary medicine but Crichton uses that detail to drive the plot, not to overwhelm the reader in minutiae (as some “techno thriller” writers do). Though this type of thriller has become a cilche now, I bet that it was rather refreshing at the time. Crichton’s protagonist is a bit like the Dashiell Hammett version of a doctor. Yes, that’s implausible, but Crichton makes it work well enough. The biggest issue with the novel is Read More

The Partner (1997) by John Grisham

Categories: 1997, Books, and Fiction.

I only know Grisham from the old days when his novels were constantly turned into “event movies” (or the closest thing we had to those back in the ’90s). I watched many of them, though not every one, and, at least as a teenager, thoroughly enjoyed a couple of them, particularly A Time to Kill and The Pelican Brief. Light spoilers ahead. You have been warned. Maybe films make Grisham’s novels come alive better or maybe my tastes have changed (they absoltely have) or maybe this is just lesser Grisham, but this is pretty blah. Grisham’s prose is admirably economical Read More

Oliver Twist (1839) by Charles Dickens

Categories: 1839, Books, and Fiction.

I first read this as a tween and I honestly didn’t remember much of it at all. Though I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Dickens, it’s pretty tough to say anything bad about this story. It’s so unbelievably canonical I have trouble putting it into words. List off a mystery / horror cliche and it probably originated with this story. I exaggerate, but the arc of so many mysteries and horror tales follow a very similar pattern. Dickens may have not been the first to use so many of these tropes, but he was likely the first to Read More

Shutter Island (2010, Martin Scorsese)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is an excellent crime thriller / psychological thriller that once again shows off Scorsese’s ability to handle any kind of material and make it convincing. (This is a plot that is really outside his typical wheelhouse.) It also features one of the best performances of DiCaprio’s career (which is really saying something), a performance so convincing that even when all your instincts are telling you one thing, you want to…well, I won’t say anything else. This is one of the movies, you know, where learning much about it ruins it for you. You should just see it, if you Read More

The Bridge (2011)

Categories: 2011 and TV.

I am reviewing the first season of Bron because I have no intention of watching future seasons (though I have heard the second season of the American version of The Bridge is very good so maybe if I do try the American version, I will get that far). The following review contains spoilers. What starts off as an enthralling, entertaining, if unrealistic crime thriller slowly deteriorates into a ridiculous, dumb, cliche cop movie. Though I had a few reservations initially, I must say I enjoyed the first half – probably even the first two thirds – of the first season. Read More

The Fall (2013)

Categories: 2013 and TV.

This is a mostly excellent British serial killer drama that manages a lot despite the reveal of the killer as one of the two main characters in the very first episode. The show plunges us into Northern Ireland with a great sense of place and little regard for our knowledge of how these things work over there. Some particular strengths of the show include moments of tension only bettered in TV by a show like Breaking Bad. I’m serious about that. There incredibly tense moments in this show. Another major strength is the preponderance of strong women characters – there Read More

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

Aside from the bizarre, music video opening – which also features a terrible cover of “Immigrant Song” – and the bizarre “Swedish” accents of all the Swedish characters (a huge pet peeve of mine in any English language film set in a foreign country), I think this is probably superior, as a film, to the original Swedish version, despite how it strays (to my knowledge) from the book. In fact, I would suggest that if you do not agree that Fincher is a great director, it may be worth watching how he handles this material as compared to the director Read More

The Essential Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1995) edited by Leonard Wolf

Categories: 1995, Books, and Fiction.

This is an immense edition of what is otherwise a pretty short novella. It is nice that a story like this would get this kind of treatment, but it’s kind of over the top. For example, the novella itself is rather over-annotated. How is that possible, you ask? Well, even one of the footnotes has its own footnotes. (Yes, that’s right, a footnote has multiple footnotes to itself.) And while some of this information is interesting, much of it is inconsequential and repetitive. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide is one of the great works of horror Read More

The Factory (2012, Morgan O’Neill)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is one of those “inspired by true events” movies where you know the screenwriters found out about a case with the “factory” of the title and then wrote their ‘idiot plot’ (to steal a phrase from Ebert) all around it. So we have the typical tired, spent cop pursuing a case that nobody else wants – A Case That Nobody Else Believes In – and stupid shit starts happening SPOILERS First, his daughter is abducted by the serial killer he was pursuing, but who nobody else believed existed. As my colleague said, how many times has a serial killer Read More

Jack Reacher (2012, Christopher McQuarrie)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is one of those ‘the hero is perfect and everyone is against him’ movies. And there’s been a lot of them, and they’re pretty tired. But this is a little better than many of them as it is quite well directed – there are a few slow reveals that are well done – and the production values are excellent. Also, there is a bit of humour – I’m not sure whether it’s intentional or not but if it is, that improves the overall experience, as a character like Jack Reacher is totally ridiculous. Recognizing that at some level makes Read More

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

Putting aside the film’s complete diversion from the source material… The thing I liked most about the original was Downey’s Holmes, who finally felt like the real Holmes (even if the film around him was nothing like the stories). And there is some attempt to keep that up, though it is minimal: Holmes’ costumes are worse, and I feel like this is a deliberate to inject some realism into what is otherwise a ridiculous movie (based on only semi-ridiculous stories).  But everything else is pretty silly. In particular, there is way more of seeing into Holmes’ mind, which means more Read More

Carnivale (2003)

Categories: 2003 and TV.

Carnivale does a good job focusing on age-old, time-tested mystical themes from religion, mythology and superstition. But like most of the programs / works that handle these themes – and like the religions and mythologies themselves – Carnivale becomes less compelling when it gets to the specifics. When it remains obscure, it stays mysterious and intriguing. But like any religious mystery, when things are explained they are a let down. That being said, the show is still mostly well made and definitely well acted. And unlike certain shows that try this angle – Lost would be the best example – Read More

The Poe Shadow (2006) by Matthew Pearl

Categories: 2006, Books, and Fiction.

I appreciate the effort that went into this to make it historically accurate. And I appreciate that, instead of writing a work of scholarship, he tried to make it exciting by writing a novel. But I have never felt the kind of enthusiasm for solving a “mystery” as unmysetrious as the death of Poe as Quentin Clark. Even when I was 18 and obsessed with Kubrick, and he died in circumstances that were not immediately conveyed to the public, I accepted it. And for whatever reason, Pearl never sold me on Clark’s interest. i never quite could buy it. Everything Read More

Gone Baby Gone (2007, Ben Affleck)

Categories: 2007 and Movies.

Someone whose name I cannot remember once formulated a concept of “Male Morality” and “Female Morality”. Now, this is a little too much of a generalization, but the idea is that “Male” morality is what is Right, what is Moral, the principle of the thing (i.e. strict adherence to moral codes and law), whereas “Female” morality is contextual, situational, about actual impacts on actual lives. Gone Baby Gone is almost a classic examination of this eternal human problem masquerading as a mystery. Unfortunately it is kept from total greatness by an amateur director. It’s not that Affleck is bad, he’s Read More

The Brothers Bloom (2009, Rian Johnson)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

There’s a lot here to like and I really want to like this movie. And I guess I would say I generally do. But there are some pretty significant issues: the third act feels really pasted on, there two narrators (!) and we don’t ever really learn why and sometimes it’s a little too hard to figure out the motivations of a couple of the main characters. I feel like the film is a rough draft. On the other hand, it’s amusing, clever and the score is pretty great. 7/10 Read More

1934 (1983, Farrar Straus Giroux) by Alberto Moravia

Categories: 1983, Books, and Fiction.

I have written before about my love-hate relationship with Italian movies. But I can’t say that I have had this same experience with Italian literature, at least until now. Until now, I have genuinely liked the few Italian novels and short stories I have gotten my hands on. It seemed to me that what I liked about Italy was the product of the artistic intelligentsia, as opposed to products of the artistic plebs. I may have changed my mind. One of the unfortunate characteristics of artists with depression is that they assume that everyone is depressed. They write their beliefs large. Read More

The Mussel Mystery

Categories: 2007, Personal, and Travel.

So, my limited research about the freshwater mussel has led me to find that indeed there are “small freshwater mussels” in the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin regions. But the thing is, the mussels I found were not in any way “small,” (for example, they were probably 15-20 times the size of the zebra mussels I have seen), they were completely gutted out as if they had been eaten and filled with sand as if they had sat there for ever, and further the lake appeared devoid of large life. It’s still a mystery to me. Read More