Monday, January 16, 2012

Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise, Vic Mackey & Me, Justified

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal there was a story about the upcoming Jack Reacher movie One Shot.  I love Lee Child’s books.  I was a latecomer to reading the series but once I started, I fell hard.  The books are ferociously entertaining and the later installments in the series are superbly written.  I am always interested in following the process of books being made into movies (its like watching sausage being made) and there has been a considerable amount of consternation over the casting of Tom Cruise to play the 6 feet 5 inches 250 pounds Jack Reacher.  It is hard to imagine two more dissimilar figures, Reacher and Cruise, and the Journal reports that once Child even cracked that Cruise would be the worst choice for the part. Given that Tom Cruise is only 5’8” his choice to play the part seems somewhat of a stretch.  The physicality of the role is such that it is hard to imagine a normal guy playing such a giant.  I know it is a movie and it is made up and that great acting can bring about miraculous transformations and special effects and clever camera angles can mask other shortcomings, but still.   Apparently, Lee Child is happy with the results even though he once told the Birmingham Post that Cruise was too short to play the part.  At least that is what he tells the Wall Street Journal. 

On a related note, I got the complete box set DVD edition of The Shield for Christmas.  I was a latecomer to The Shield, as well.  One Christmas Eve several years ago, we were at my sister’s house for dinner and presents and my brother-in-law had a DVD of The Shield playing on his Reacheresque widescreen TV.  If you’ve never seen the show before, it is very gritty, violent and loud.  While we were opening presents, we had to watch this episode about enslaved Asian teen prostitutes. (Or something like that - I was trying hard to block it out and have yet to see the offending episode on DVD.)   It was the most un-Christmas thing imaginable.  And that experience soured me on The Shield, which I had never seen before, for a long time.  The show would not go away and I kept hearing about how good it was from sources I usually trust and value for entertainment recommendations.  (Like in Sylvia Nasr’s book A Beuatiful Mind about the mentally-ill mathmatician John Nash –played so memorably in the movie by Russell Crowe – who, incidentally, Lee Child fancied for the role of Reacher – when he was asked why he listened to the crazy things the voices in his head were telling him said that those were the same voices who gave him his insights into mathamatics.  So I decided to listen and give The Shield another try.)  The second time around, my wife and I enjoyed the show.  But we had this problem where she kept falling asleep during each episode and she fell behind in our viewing and then we would have to return the DVDs and we petered out somewhere in season four.  Now we own the complete series and are re-watching season three.  And after watching all these episodes, I realized that I look a lot like Vic Mackey.  Or if Vic Mackey had a brother who was a real-bad ass librarian with glasses instead of a dirty cop, that would be me.   (Or I look way more like Vic Mackey than Tom Cruise does Jack Reacher.)  In Richard Stark's Parker novels, I have no problem enjoying the exploits of a career criminal.  Same goes for watching the Sopranos.  But I still feel conflicted about watching and liking Vic Mackey on the Shield.  He does do good but at times he's done what should be unforgivable things.  I suppose the show is meant to be a searing indictment on how everything has been corrupted but Vic kills a fellow cop in the pilot episode and yet we keep watching. 

Update:  I started this post about a week ago and since then, the Wall Street Journal has had another  good story on books being filmed - this time on Elmore Leonard and Justified.  Leonard really likes the TV adaptation of his Raylan Givens stories.  It is nice to hear a writer who's happy with what has been done to his work.  (Though Leonard is not happy with the hat Givens wears on screen.)  Season three of Justified starts on Tuesday and I keep hearing good things about this show.  First from here (several good posts here) and I heard this review today.  I really need to catch up with this show.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

What I'm Looking Forward to in 2012

Even though I still have a bunch* of new books from 2011 to read, these are some of the books of 2012 that I cannot wait to get: 

The Devil's Beat by Robert Edric, March 1
This is supposed to be what the book is about:
'We must prise opinion from fact, belief from supposition and guesswork from whatever evidence must exist...' It is surely a simple case of hysteria. Four young women allegedly witness a terrifying apparition while walking in the woods. Has the devil really revealed himself to them? Are they genuine victims of demonic possession? Or, as most suspect, is their purpose in claiming all of this considerably more prosaic? The eyes of the country turn to a small Nottinghamshire town, where an inquiry is to be held. Everyone there is living through hard, uncertain times. The king is recently dead. It is a new century - a new world looking to the future. But here, in the ancient heart of England, an old beast stirs...Four men must examine the substance of the girls' tales and decide their fate: a minister, a doctor, a magistrate, and Merritt, an investigator - a seemingly perfect blend of the rational, the sacred and the judicial. And yet, as the feverish excitement all around them grows ever more widespread and infectious, there is both doubt and conflict among the members of this panel. The "Devil's Beat" explores the unforeseeable and unstoppable outcome of this inquiry - an alarming and unsettling time during which the whole of that small world seems in turmoil as one after another hitherto dependable natural checks and balances, beliefs and superstitions are challenged and then lost.

That sound's pretty good, right?  But if you were looking at the synopsis of the Australian edition of the book, published by Random House Books Australia, the story sounds very different:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large ego must be in want of a woman to cut him down to size...Sharp, witty Jasmin Field has her own column in a national magazine and has just landed the coveted role of Elizabeth Bennet in a one-off fundraising adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Better yet, the play's director, Hollywood heart-throb and Oscar-winner, Harry Noble, is every bit as obnoxious as she could have hoped. Which means a lot of material for her column. And a lot of fun in rehearsals.And then disaster strikes. Jazz's best friend abandons her for a man not worthy to buy her chocolate, her family starts to crumble before her eyes and her award-winning column hits the skids. Worse still, Harry Noble keeps staring at her.As the lights dim, the audience hush and Jazz awaits her cue, she realises two very important things, one: she can't remember her lines, and two: Harry Noble looks amazing in breeches...

To me, this version doesn't sound as good.

Skios by Michael Frayn, May 3
I will automatically buy and read almost anything Frayn writes.  Okay, I skipped his recent book on philsophy.  And I still have to get his memoir about his father.

Capital by John Lanchester, March 1
In many ways, Lanchester reminds me of Frayn.  Lanchester's book on the financial crisis (Whoops or I.O.U. depending on where it was published) was terrific and this new novel is what he was planning to write when he got caught up researching and following the crisis.  There is an excerpt of it in this week's issue of the New Yorker magazine (for subscribers only) and it is great.  Can't wait for this book.

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, February 16
Boyd is another automatic selection.

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey, April 5
Sometimes I like Carey, sometimes I don't.  This one feels like a like.

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace by Kate Summerscale, May 10
This I can already tell I will buy but not read for a few years.  But that's more about me than the book.

The Passage of Power by Robert Caro, May 1
This is the fourth volume in Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson.  The first three books are extraordinary.  LBJ was one of our most complicated presidents.  He waged a terrible war in Vietnam but lead a great fight for equality and civil rights and against poverty in the US.  He was vulgar and crude.  And his rise to power was incredibly unlikely.  An unbelievably captivating figure.  Caro's books are political biography at its best.  And they are great to read, too.  Most of the reviews that will be published about this book will gush about how great Robert Caro is and they will all be right.

Watergate by Thomas Mallon, February 21
This is getting good advance notice.  Like this:
“Mallon, astute and nimble, continues his scintillating, morally inquisitive journey through crises great and absurd in American politics by taking on Watergate…Mallon himself is deliciously witty. But it is his political fluency and unstinting empathy that transform the Watergate debacle into a universal tragicomedy of ludicrous errors and malignant crimes, epic hubris and sorrow.” –Booklist, starred review
And I kind of know the writer (in a neighborly way) and chatted with him about the book as he was writing it so I guess that makes me biased.  But I think this book will be a hit (certainly in this town it will).

Good Bait by John Harvey, January 5
John Harvey is another automatic selection for me.  An English Pelecanos?  (Or maybe Pelecanos is an American Harvey.) Crime writing with a social conscience.  And a great stylist as well.

The Comedy is Finished by Donald Westlake, February 21
We are so lucky that there have been a few new (or old or lost) Westlakes since his death.  And they have been good books, too.  Not unfinished crap.  I hope there are still a few more books somewhere. 

*Leftover from 2011

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
The Affair by Lee Child
The Drop by Michael Connelly
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder
The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina
Some of these I am saving for vacation in February.  And it has been hard to not read them but to be on vacation without good books to read would be a ruin the whole trip.  Even preparing for the trip would be difficult.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Three Books of 2011

I looked over the books I read in 2011 and there were three books that stood out.

The best old book I read was John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I had no idea how wonderful the book was going to be.  I sort of knew a lot about it and John le Carre but had never read a single word of his.  Le Carre is such an interesting fellow that every time he a new book out there are always lots of reviews and interviews to read and listen to that I always felt familiar with him without ever reading him. (Slight exaggeration: I started and abandoned The Tailor of Panama when it was published - thought it was awful.)  Reading TTSS was like the first taste of lobster after only eating fish sticks.  Amazing.

The best new book I read was Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.  Like le Carre, Murakami is a darling of journalists and critics.  I have read and enjoyed his stories in the New Yorker over the years but for some unknown reason, never attempted to read any of his novels.  Clearly a mistake, I now know.  1Q84 is a novel about writing, a love story, a chase story, a revenge novel, a fantasy/alternate reality novel - it is a bunch of things, really, but all in one simple package.  It completely captured my attention and I did not want it to end.

The book that had the greatest impact on my life was Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog.  As I read it, I started to want a dog.  While I was reading it I found myself doing Google searches for dogs.  And a month or two later, out of nowhere, I found myself with the chance to get a dog. (Yes, I know people get dogs all the time but such a thing had been completely unthinkable for me.)  And now I have one.