Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yesterday I finished The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman, the third book in the Sally Lockhart trilogy.

Like all modern novels set in Victorian England and featuring a heroine as protagonist, this series has to have a protagonist that acts in a more modern way than most women would have acted at that time. In inferior novels, this would happen without comment in an a-historical way. In the previous two novels in this series, The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North, Pullman makes it clear that Sally Lockhart is more independent than was considered proper by mainstream Victorian society. One of the interesting things about The Tiger in the Well is that this fact becomes a central part of the plot - someone creates a legal trap for Sally and she finds that her status as an outsider in Victorian society undermines her efforts to defend herself.

I reviewed the first two books in the series here and here. It is quite a good series, possibly even better than his more famous His Dark Materials trilogy.

Amazon Link: The Tiger in the Well

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I just finished The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler, the first of his book featuring diver Dirk Pitt.

Every once in a while, I feel like reading the modern equivalent of pulp fiction - quick reads with daring heroes, dastardly villains and absurd action. The other day, I noticed the movie Sahara was on so I watched a few minutes of it. This movie is based on a later Dirk Pitt adventure and it made me slightly curious to check out the series.

The Mediterranean Caper is a pretty standard adventure book. The main characters stumble into a criminal conspiracy while helping to look for a rare fish and end up saving the US from a drug ring. Nothing special but OK for what it is. After seeing No Country for Old Men the other day, this was a good book to use to cleanse my palette.

Amazon Link: The Mediterranean Caper

Monday, November 12, 2007

This weekend I saw the new Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men, based on Cormac McCarthy's novel.

Previously, my least favourite Coen Brothers film was the critic's favourite, Fargo, but I've got a new bottom dweller with No Country for Old Men.

(Possible Spoilers upcoming)

Most of the movie is fairly engaging. There are a few dialogue scenes that slow it down and a few characters that show up and then get killed without leaving much of a mark on the story, but Josh Brolin being chased through rural Texas by a psychopath keeps the audience involved.

But the ending is simply atrocious, from all standpoints. It's possible McCarthy is intending his work as a criticism of other modern crime novels, like those of Elmore Leonard, that boil down to confrontations between men to see who is really tougher. There are multiple characters in this movie that, like in Leonard novels, express that they can deal with their opponents but it turns out none of them can. The main character of the movie is killed off-screen in a gun battle, another tough guy character is introduced and then killed off after only 3 scenes and the final confrontation is between the psychopath and the defenseless wife of the main character.

After everyone important is dead, the movie basically drifts to an end with a few more dialogue scenes from Tommy Lee Jones - a character who ends up not interacting with any of the other main characters at all, but just comments a little on what has happened. The ending is so Naturalistic as to be almost a parody of Naturalism, including a random car crash near the end of the movie that comes out of nowhere but doesn't actually change anything important in the movie.

Don't be deceived by the glowing critic's reviews - this is a movie to be avoided. Or, if you absolutely can't miss it, watch the first 90 minutes and then walk out of the theater and make up your own ending. You'll be much happier that way.