Archive for August 2013

Friday Flicks: The Lincoln Lawyer

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A  review of a book to film adaptation.

Michael Connelly's 2005 novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, garnered critical and commercial success. The film adaptation stays loyal to the novel, and is very entertaining. 

Matthew McConaughey portrays the main character Mickey Haller as a kind of lovable, bad boy. Haller is a lawyer who has made a career of representing criminals and outcasts. He runs his practice out of his old Lincoln, and drives around town looking for his next case. Early on in the film, we are introduced to his ex-wife, played by Marisa Tomei, with whom he has a young daughters. It is in these moments that we get to see the softer side of Haller. 

The story really gets moving when Haller is called to represent Roulet, a high profile, Los Angeles playboy who is accused of murdering a prostitute. Despite a bad gut feeling, Haller knows that this case could be the high point of his career. With the help of his own investigator Frank Levin, played by a show-stealing William H. Macey, Haller soon finds a connection to a previous case that has haunted him for years. 

Overall, the film is a great mix of action, intrigue and comedy. McConaughey's everyman persona really helps Haller to be relatable and an effective protagonist. Ryan Phillippe is surprisingly effective at staying in the grey area as Roulet. The real star of the movie is Macey, who's appearance is cut short way too soon. This movie effectively captures the essence of Connelly's novel while still adjusting to the new medium. While this adaptation is pretty black and white, it is still very entertaining.  

Have you read the novel or seen the movie? If so, what did you think of it? What book adaptations would you like to see as a future Friday Flicks post?

The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau

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From the start, this novel is unconventional. It begins in the back room of a dress shop where twenty-year-old Allie Dodgson is being coerced into snorting cocaine and taking of her top as her boss, Jonas, masturbates. I warned you.

The year is 1983 and, to be fair, Allie does attempt to avoid the situation. But Jonas insists that he will only pay her if she complies with his requests. On the heels of a recent breakup that left both her heart and wallet empty, she relents. Finally, Jonas is satisfied and allows Allie to leave, but does not hold up his end of the bargain. Enraged and high, she leaves the shop with something Jonas is sure to miss . . . a Wonder Bread bag full of raw cocaine.

She arrives at the home of her friend, Beth, and immediately recognizes the error in her actions. She knows that the dress shop is really a front for a large drug operation and that Jonas will try to recover the cocaine by any means. She decides that she will sell enough of the coke to earn the money that Jonas owes her, and then return the excess. But this plan is not meant to be. Jonas knows Allie is in possession of his property and has sent one bad dude, Vice Versa, to retrieve it. Caught in a crazy situation, Allie must come to terms with her actions before her whole life comes crashing down. 

It is nearly impossible to summarize the entire book without ruining the fun story that Blau has crafted. An homage to the drug filled California of the early 1980's, this novel includes all of the small and large details that made the era so fascinating. Yes, this is definitely an adult novel, full of drug use, foul language, and sexual situation. Despite these elements, the story remains a constant example of a character driven, coming of age story, crossed with a Tarantinoesque crime thriller. The characters each are well thought out and have varying layers of depth that is rare in the usual summer reading fare. Overall, this is a fast paced summer read that offers strong story, characters and, most importantly, entertainment. 

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.  

(2013: week 34, book 32)

Friday Flicks: The Ghost Writer

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A review of a book to film adaptation.

Former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) runs into difficulties as he attempts to complete his memoirs. His longtime aid turned ghost writer, died in an apparent accident. The publishers scramble to bring in a replacement, as to avoid any delays in publication. Enter Ewan McGregor as the unnamed replacement author, who is tasked with finishing the memoirs in a reduced time-frame, despite his inexperience in writing "political" memoirs.

Due to Lang's scheduled speaking engagements, McGregor's character travels to the small town on Martha's Vineyard where Lang and his entourage are staying. As he begins reading the draft of his predecessor, he is bored by the writing, and realizes that he will have to start the narrative from scratch. During his interviews with Lang, he begins to suspect the Prime Minister of withholding some of the crucial facts from his past. He also begins to question the mysterious death of his predecessor.

Lang's entire team is soon caught off guard by the accusation by his former Foreign Secretary of authorizing the illegal seizure of accused terrorist to be handed over to the American CIA for torture and questioning. This forces Lang to refocus his energy from the memoirs to repairing his reputation and defending himself against the politically harmful accusations.

Of course, controversy sells. It is no surprise then that the publisher requests the memoirs be completed within the coming weeks instead of the original time frame. As the Ghost Writer investigates further into the life of Adam Lang, he begins to uncover inconsistencies in his claims. There are connections between Lang and an American professor (Tom Wilkinson) who is rumored to have worked for the CIA. As the Ghost Writer delves deeper into the life of Adam Lang, his is thrust into a conspiracy that spans nearly four decades. In the end, he must discover the truth behind the lies of Adam Lang before his meets the fate of his predecessor.

The film is based upon the novel The Ghost by author Robert Harris, who also co-authored the screenplay with the film's director, Roman Polanski. This is a taut thriller, with quick pacing, genuine characters, and a twist ending that you won't see coming. The entire film feels cold and disconcerting, in thanks largely to the production design, cinematography, and minimal score. The plot generally stays faithful to that of the fantastic novel, echoing the political allusions to actual Prime Minister Tony Blair and his controversial relationship with the United States. This is a first rate thriller and possibly one of my favorite book to film adaptations.

Have you read the novel or seen the movie? If so, what did you think of it? What book adaptations would you like to see as a future Friday Flicks post?

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

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As the title would suggest, there is extreme loyalty amongst the members of the Ludlow family. Loyalty to themselves, each other, and most importantly to their father, Carl. But this loyalty goes far beyond the ties of family. Besides being their father, Carl is also their boss. He heads a high-powered law firm where each of his children work. His three sons all partners at the firm, follow a strict diet, religious exercise routine, and do everything in their power to keep their father happy. Fina, the sole surviving daughter of the family, could not be more different. She never did the law school thing, opting instead to apprentice with the firm's private investigator. Now, as the lead investigator for the firm, she brings her irreverent spontaneity to everything she does. To be clear, she still has a strong loyalty to her family, but she definitely has her own unique way of showing it.

The family is rocked when Melanie, the wife of brother Rand Ludlow goes missing. This isn't the first time this has happened. In fact, there has always been tension between Rand, Melanie, and their teenage daughter Haley, but this time things are different. Following an argument with her husband at their daughter's school the day before, she is literally nowhere to be found. Even worse for the family, all evidence points to Rand as being responsible for her disappearance. Rand is no stranger to minor run ins with the law, but he insists that he had nothing to do with this. With the police, who naturally have a frayed relationship with the family of lawyers to begin with, begin investigating Rand, Carl tasks Fina with getting to the bottom of things.

In Fina, author Ingrid Thoft has imagined a fireball of a character who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty to find the truth. As she investigates, she is forced to battle her own emotions and decide whether to place her loyalty in her own sense of moral justice, or in the family that she has devoted her life to. Reminiscent of an early Kay Scarpetta or Stephanie Plum, Fina is the kind of strong, endearing female character that you can't help but root for. In addition to the suspenseful mystery, Thoft involves Fina in an unconventional love triangle that gives us glimpses into her sympathetic if not a little bit twisted psyche. The mystery of itself does become a bit predictable towards the end, but the fun is in witnessing this entertaining character discover the secrets. With Loyalty, her debut novel, Ingrid Thoft has quickly established her place in crime fiction through her strong characters, suspenseful pacing, and charming wit.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 32, book 31)

Shot All to Hell by Mark Lee Gardner

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Jesse James is perhaps one of the most famous criminals in American history. With the assistance of his notorious gang of outlaws, James sealed his position in the legends of western folklore. In Shot All to Hell, author Mark Lee Gardner details the gang's final showdown, as they attempted to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota.

Gardner provides unique insights into the gang's motivations. It turns out, that the group is comprised of mostly ex-confederates. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why they would want to rob a northern bank. On top of the giant blow the heist would cause the Northerners, the giant sum of money that the gang would acquire would allow the James Brothers to settle down and end their outlaw ways. But as most heists go, this one doesn't go as plan. Despite the gang's confidence in their actions, they never expected the bankers to fight back. Throughout the book, Gardner chronicles the actions of the gang and the group of citizens determined to defeat the notorious criminals.

This book could have easily been a rehash of historical facts, regurgitated as fresh revelations. Fortunately, Gardner eschews the pitfalls of other historical books, writing with a quick prose and surprisingly vibrant wit. He sheds a new light on several aspects of the James gang, remaining objective in both is reporting and observations. This books reads as a fast paced, historical, western, managing to remain both factual and entertaining. At under 300 pages, Shot All to Hell is the perfect summer read for those looking for a smart, quick, alternative to the standard fare.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 31, book 30)

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