Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Leonard’s laconic style is well suited to Westerns. The writing in this novel is as terse as the characters. It is those characters that make this novel what it is. While Leonard does not waste a lot of words, his characters are always well fleshed out, complex and, most importantly, believable. It goes without saying that people are complex and Leonard captures this complexity as well as any novelist writing today.

Last Stand at Saber River is, on some levels a deconstruction of the classic Western. Leonard sets up a classic confrontation and, while the novel does not shy away from violence, the morality of that violence does not go unexplored. War is war, self-defense is self-defense and murder is murder. When those lines start to blur, a moral man will weigh his actions carefully and that conflict is the heart of this book.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

52 Movies: Week 18

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an adaptation of John LeCarre’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole embedded in the highest rank’s of Britain’s MI-6. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, is best known for Let The Right One In, the original film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire novel of the same name. Let The Right One In was notable for being a patient character study masquerading as a genre film, and for being an impeccable period piece, capturing the look and feel of 80’s Norway with apparent verisimilitude. These strengths are again on display in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

John LeCarre actually spent time in British intelligence prior to becoming a a writer and was, himself, betrayed by a Russian mole. His novels bear no resemblance to Robert Ludlum’s terrible Bourne books. LeCarre’s stories are nuanced character studies, well grounded in a place and time that he knows well. Alfredson was, accordingly, the perfect director to adapt his work and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is as exceptional as Let The Right One In.

Gary Oldman received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of George Smiley, the intelligence agent who is surreptitiously brought out of forced retirement to hunt down the mole. Smiley is a taciturn character and Oldman’s performance is one of those masterpieces of minimalism, not unlike Billy Bob Thorton’s work in The Man Who Wasn’t There. There is a real art to being able to convey great depth with such a quiet performance and it’s always thrilling to see an actor pull it off. These sorts of performances do not insult the audience by spelling everything out and, indeed, the movie as a whole shares some of these characteristics. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a measured movie and the complex plot developments are rarely spelled out. This is, accordingly, not a movie for everyone. This is a spy movie of the cloak and dagger variety, not the action adventure type.

That caveat aside, the entire cast turns in incredible performances, (with Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy being particularly noteworthy), and I personally loved this movie. Four stars out of five. Next week I will try to see Captain America so I may (finally) have a less than glowing review! There are so many good movies lined up in my Netflix queue, however, that it’s hard to avoid picking things I suspect I’m really going to like each week.

Album Recommendation: Electric Six — Fire

In reading up on Jack White this week I discovered that he collaborated with Electric Six on one of my favorite albums, Fire.  Rocking your face off while making you laugh is no small feat but Electric Six manage to pull it off.

“Danger! High Voltage” is the song that first turned me on to Electric Six:

The video for “Gay Bay” is funny in its own right and also sets up this hilarious sketch from the BBC’s Armstrong and Miller Show:




Jack White — Blunderbuss

52 Albums: Week 14

Jack White -- Blunderbuss

Jack White’s first full-length solo-album, Blunderbuss, is mostly deserving of the considerable buzz it is generating.

Freed from the expectations of The White Stripes, Blunderbuss gives Jack White the leeway to further explore his particular brand of bluesy punk in.  White takes full advantage of this freedom — Blunderbuss is bursting at the seams with creativity and masterfully pulls together sounds that have only been hinted at in his previous work.  The whole thing is pulled off with a confidence and control that ties everything together into a coherent whole.

The songs on the album that work are great on a visceral level and I want to love Blunderbuss but, unfortunately, the filler on this album leaves me mostly cold.  This is, of course, a matter of personal taste — None of these songs are bad but some of them just aren’t my bag.  Nevertheless, the legitimately great songs on this album keep me coming back for more and, in a year that’s been fraught with musical disappointments, Blunderbuss is currently sitting in my top five.

In looking for a song to highlight for this review I am tempted to go with the album’s first single, “Love Interruption.”  It’s a phenomenal song and utterly original but it’s gotten a fair amount of exposure so instead I will go with the album’s closer, “Take Me with You when You Go,” a song which really captures the range of sounds White manages to blend on this album:

Shades of The Sweet or Electric Six towards the end there. (Which gives me a good idea for this week’s Album Recommendation.)

Blunderbuss deserves four stars out of five but I’m going to give it three and a half stars, based entirely on my personal tastes. I love half of the songs but the other half does nothing for me and that holds me back from enthusiastically endorsing the album as a whole.

Listen to Blunderbuss on Spotify.

Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski

Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski

Secret Dead Men is an interesting concept disastrously executed.

Del Farmer is a murdered reporter who has his soul absorbed by someone investigating his killers. He eventually takes over the investigation himself, absorbing souls along the way and housing them in a hotel within his brain. As concepts go it’s not without potential but, by the end, it devolves into a god awful mess. The characters are paper thin and jumbled, no one’s actions or words ring particularly true and the original interesting concept continues to evolve in ever more ridiculous directions.

I enjoyed the last two books I’ve read by Duane Swierczynski, (The Driver, a straight forward crime novel about a double-crossed get away driver and The Blonde, another high-concept crime novel that works well once you accept the somewhat far-fetched central conceit), so it pains me to give this book one star but, this was a real stinker. By the end I was muscling my way through simply because I was close to the end and it was a quick read.

The Cabin In The Woods

52 Movies: Week 17

The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin In The Woods is a smart, funny deconstruction of the slasher movie genre.

This is the second movie I have seen in the last month that subverts expectations of the classic “teenagers in a cabin on the lake” slasher film plot.  Tucker and Dale vs Evil was a much more good-spirited movie but, once the central premise was revealed, events unfolded in a fairly obvious direction.  The Cabin In The Woods, by contrast, is a much more sophisticated deconstruction of the genre with a plot that unfolds like a puzzle box over the course of the movie’s hour and a half run time.

This sort of complex plot, featuring continuous reveals, is just what audiences would expect of writer director Drew Goddard who worked on the first four seasons of Lost, as well as Alias and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  Buffy The Vampire Slayer was, of course, the brainchild of Josh Whedon and his presence as a co-writer on Cabin In The Woods is felt in the subversive humor that pervades.

The Cabin In The Woods is a very funny movie and the excellent cast, featuring Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Kristen Connolly and Chris Hemsworth, among others, does a great job with the material.  The less I say about the specific plot points the better.  Suffice to say that I highly recommend Cabin In The Woods and suggest avoiding trailers or reviews until after you’ve seen the film.

The Cabin In The Woods continues the streak of excellent movies I’ve been seeing lately and I give it four stars out of five.

Album Recommendation: Sons and Daughters — Mirror Mirror

Sons and Daughters are an indie-rock band out of Glasgow, Scotland who cite Johnny Cash among their influences. I was first turned onto them by their 2005 album, The Repulsion Box, which absolutely blew my doors off.  Their 2008 album, This Gift, was well received by critics but, to my ear, it felt over produced.

Imagine my excitement, then, when their most recent album was released last year featuring a stripped back return to the sound that grabbed me so powerfully when I first heard them.  By turns moody and hard driving, this is an album that knows what it’s all about.  Here’s one of the more atmospheric songs on the album, “Ink Free”:

If there was an award for Best Use of a Typewriter for Percussion, that song would totally win. For something a bit heavier, check out the single “Rose Red”:

Listen to Mirror Mirror on Spotify.