Monday, May 25, 2015

Passenger 57

Review of a tolerable action film for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Passenger 57 (1992) should be the silliest hijack film I have seen till now.

Wesley Snipes plays John Cutter, the mysterious Passenger 57 in this namesake action flick directed by Kevin Hooks (known more for television than films, I think). But he doesn’t stay mysterious for long. His cover as a seasoned airline security expert is blown less than half hour into the movie by Sabrina Ritchie (Elizabeth Hurley), the lone woman hijacker disguised as a stewardess.

Half-crazed international terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) is on the same passenger jet, handcuffed and seated between two FBI agents who are taking him to LA. As soon as the plane takes off, Sabrina makes her move and shoots the Feds. Rane and Sabrina and two other accomplices then take over the jet.

Conveniently, John Cutter is in the loo when Rane shoots a few people including the pilot. The anti-terrorist specialist manages to discharge fuel with the help of Marti Slayton (Alex Datcher), a genuine stewardess and Cutter’s love interest, forcing Rane to land the plane in a small town. However, it’s not long before his cover is blown again and Cutter finds himself licking the runway, and Rane escapes, as was his intention.

From here on much of the action takes place on land, in a crowded amusement park where Cutter and Rane play hide and seek and shoot, first on a rollercoaster and then on a merry-go-round. Unusual for such hijack capers, Cutter manages to nab Rane and hand him over to the FBI.

This is where it gets silly. Rane blackmails Cutter and the FBI into letting him back on board the plane where his accomplices are holding the remaining passengers hostage. Whatever happened to commandos and midair boarding? And it gets sillier when Cutter follows Rane into the airborne jet for a final showdown, in a stunt reversal of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leap off a midair plane in Commando (1985).

Passenger 57 is passable. Wesley Snipes doesn’t say much, but he kicks butt every now and then. Tom Sizemore, a fine actor, is wasted as airline representative Sly Delvecchio. He and Hurley look like extras. Bruce Payne, who I don’t recall seeing anywhere, appears stiff and stone faced rather than deranged as he is meant to be. I have seen better hijack films, notably Airport ’77 (1977), The Delta Force (1986), Executive Decision, (1996), Air Force One (1997), and Con Air (1997). I watched Passenger 57 on a lazy Saturday afternoon. You can, too, if there’s nothing else on.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1915

Review of a short horror story by the German actor, poet, philosopher, and writer for Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

When the student of medicine, Richard Bracquemont, decided to move into room #7 of the small Hotel Stevens, Rue Alfred Stevens (Paris 6), three persons had already hanged themselves from the cross-bar of the window in that room on three successive Fridays.

I read The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers as part of my self-styled challenge to read thirty-one short stories in May and I’m about half way there. I’d be happy if I read even twenty stories this month.

The Spider is an unusual story, illusional and spooky and surreal as a dream, or a nightmare. Three men—a Swiss travelling salesman, a high wire cyclist, and a police officer—are found dead in the hotel room on consecutive Fridays, hanging by the cross-bar of the window and their legs dragging on the floor. A large black spider crawls from each dead man’s mouth.

A hotel porter flicked it away, exclaiming, “Ugh, another of those damned creatures.”

Fearing for the consequences to her business, Madame Dubonnet, the owner of the cheap guesthouse, summons the police inspector of the ninth precinct who reluctantly allows Richard Bracquemont, a student of medicine, to hole up in Room No.7 till he gets to the bottom of the mysterious deaths, or suicides.

The days and weeks pass without incident until, one day, Bracquemont notices the young woman in the small dark flat across the narrow street. Clarimonda, as the student believes her name to be, is sitting by a window and spinning on an old-fashioned spindle. Bracquemont finds her irresistible.

What does Clarimonda look like? I'm not quite sure. Her hair is black and wavy; her face pale. Her nose is short and finely shaped with delicate nostrils that seem to quiver. Her lips, too, are pale: and when she smiles, it seems that her small teeth are as keen as those of some beast of prey.

From across the street, Clarimonda begins to draw Bracquemont towards him, like a moth to a flame, like a fly into a spider’s web. But is Clarimonda real? And does Bracquemont solve the three mystery deaths?

Clarimonda is a metaphor for the spider in the story which reads like a mild tale of horror. Although The Spider is well-written, the length could've been cut short. It drags a bit halfway when Bracquemont and Clarimonda communicate with each other through smiles, signs, and gestures. This story might not be to everyone’s liking but you might want to read it if you’re a fan of strange fiction.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

An extract from my novella

“Hari? What kind of a name is that?”
“It’s a proper name.”
“As in Harry Potter or hairy legs?” 

“No, as in hurry up, please!”

Last December, I started writing a novella set in Mumbai. It is a crime story, though, let me warn you that it has a leisurely pace and is more atmospheric than hardboiled. The protagonist is Hari Hemmady, a mild-mannered detective in the crime branch with a nose for homicide cases. I meant to finish the story by Christmas but couldn’t due to various reasons. So far I have written upwards of 6,000 words and I hope to complete it in coming weeks. Alongside, I’m also working on a collection of fast-paced short stories that I intend finishing by Diwali this November. I don’t want to rush into either as I don’t write every day and, in fact, I write only when I have the time and the mood suits me.

For now, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into a portion of the first draft of my novella which I have gone through a couple of times. It requires editing and probably revision too which I’ll undertake after I complete the entire story. I haven’t figured out a title yet. Read on…

*     *     *     *     *

“So you’re not going to use third degree on me, are you?”

Hari Hemmady backed away as Trisha switched off the kitchen light and swept past him into the living room. His 6'3" broad-shouldered frame trailed after her and almost knocked her down when she stopped abruptly and turned around to face him. He steadied her and stepped back.

He liked the way she looked at that moment, standing in front of him, her arms folded and her head cocked to one side, lips compressed, gazing up at him through shining dark eyes. God, she was beautiful, he thought. He experienced a familiar sensation but he knew better than to tell her what he was thinking.

“Hemmady, all I asked you was a simple question and all I wanted was a straight answer. Don’t give it to me if you don’t want to. I’m not going to beat it out of you, okay?” She whirled around and walked towards their study.

That did it. He’d have to stick to his side of the bed tonight. She used his last name only when she was upset with him which was rare. He decided not to mess with her.

“Look, Trish,” he began. “For whatever it’s worth…”

She turned once again and gave him a look that said, “I dare you to say the truth, mister.”

“…I think she still has her looks,” he finished.

“You think?”

He almost raised his voice in exasperation. “Well, I didn’t get a good look at her. I was there only a couple of minutes. Besides, it was dark on the landing and there were these potted plants all over the place. Anyway, how the hell does it matter? Dina was in my past. I love you and I’m married to you now and that’s how I want it for the rest of my life, and you know I do.”

And then he did mess with her. “You are jealous, aren’t you, Trish?” He said mischievously and regretted it instantly.

She gave him a fiery look. “Don’t even think of it tonight, Hemmady,” she said and walked away.

He stared after her. She did it every time! That’s what you get for marrying a psychologist. He started to say something but decided against it. He was contemplating whether to follow her and make up or spend the night in the living room when his cell phone rang. It was ACP Dhond calling to inform him that the last suspect, the building watchman, was clean. The man had a sound alibi. He had been on leave when the crime took place and was, in fact, in his native village attending a wedding the day Mrs. Seth was poisoned to death. Dhond said he had checked out the alibi and found no reason to detain the guard.

“All right, Dhond, if you’re sure then let him go. But did he say anything that might give us a paan to chew on?”

“Saab, he did mention a stranger who visited Mrs. Seth on at least two occasions.”

“Male or female?”


“How old?”

“Late thirties.”

“When was this?”

“About a week before the murder.”

“Did he say who he was?”

“The man didn't give a name but our man thinks he was a lawyer.”

“How come?” Hemmady wanted to know.

“The watchman said he thought the man was a vakil because he was carrying papers the way lawyers usually do. A bunch of them tied loosely together on an open cardboard file and held close to the chest.”

“Yes, I know the kind. Did he leave a number in the visitors’ book?”

“Mrs. Seth’s housing complex doesn’t keep one. People walk in and walk out, even at nights.”

And kill innocent people, Hemmady muttered under his breath. “All right, Dhond. First thing tomorrow we track down this lawyer. We might be on to something.”

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Yes, ask Rana to prepare a sketch of our new suspect.”

“He’s already working on it, saab. Anything else?

“No, Dhond, go on home," Hemmady told his deputy. 
I’ll see you in the morning.”

Hemmady put the phone down and glanced at the study. Trisha was probably busy with a case paper. She often sat up late writing patient reports. He decided to let things cool down. He plopped in his favourite chair, picked up In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, opened the bookmarked page, and was soon engrossed in reading about the real life murders of a Kansas-based farmer named Herbert Clutter and his wife and children. He lost track of time. He must have been reading for quite some time because once or twice his head dropped on his chest and the book slid from his hands. He glanced at his watch. It showed 11.15 pm.

“Hari,” a soft voice called from the bedroom. “Come to bed. You have a long day tomorrow.” Trisha was leaning against the door with her arms crossed. She had tied up her hair and had changed into a white shirt and shorts.

Hemmady got up, switched off the table lamp, and came to her. He enveloped her in his arms and held her close to him. She didn’t resist. She put her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. They rocked on their feet, slowly. She loved this moment. And then, she lifted her head and they kissed gently on the lips.

Copyright: Prashant C. Trikannad

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Slowing down

I have eased up on blogging due to personal and professional reasons that will persist through the next few days. I'll be reading other blogs though I might not comment as often as I do, which bothers me. For now I'm taking each day as it comes.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Should I go back and pick up this book?

This afternoon, I literally stumbled across a hardback edition of Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays by William Styron, the noted American novelist and essayist. It was for sale on a footpath in South Mumbai, one among a hundred-odd books strewn over a plastic sheet. The 176-page book, published by Random House in 2008, was in mint condition and selling for Rs.30 (less than 50 cents). 

The back of the book said, "After the great success in 1990 of Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, his memoir of depression and recovery, William Styron wrote more frequently in an introspective, autobiographical mode. Havanas in Camelot brings together fourteen of his personal essays, including a reminiscence of his brief friendship with John F. Kennedy; memoirs of Truman Capote, James Baldwin, and Terry Southern; a meditation on Mark Twain; an account of Styron’s daily walks with his dog; and an evocation of his summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. These essays, which reveal a reflective and humorous side of Styron’s nature, make possible a fuller assessment of this enigmatic man of American letters."

I have never read Styron before though I'm aware of his work such as Lie Down in Darkness, The Long March, and Sophie's Choice. Although I enjoy reading personal essays by famous writers and authors, I decided against buying it because I own far too many books that I haven't read. But do you think I made a mistake? Would you have bought the book without a second thought? And should I also have picked up the Ruth Rendell paperback peeping out from under the pyramid of used books? I hate to make these choices.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

My reading in March and April

I have combined my reading in March and April because I read very few books and short stories during the two months. I explained why in my post on April 3. Still, there is rarely a good reason not to read. Either you read well or you don’t. My reading in January and February was slightly better.

© Beat to a Pulp
The highlight of my reading was my interview with author James Reasoner based on his ‘alternate history’ story The Blood of the Fallen.

I also enjoyed reading Hell Town Shootout, a Gideon Miles western novelette by Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer), which I will be reviewing soon. I'll also be reading more adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles in coming months.

Novels & Novellas

1937 - The Citadel by A.J. Cronin

1939 - No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase

1962 - America, America by Elia Kazan

2014 - Hell Town Shootout by Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer)

Short Stories

1930 - Gladiator by Philip Wylie, 1930

1951 - The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury, 1951

1953 - Carrera's Woman by Richard Marsten (Ed McBain)

1959 - Look Death in the Eye by Lawrence Block

2002 - The Blood of the Fallen by James Reasoner, 2002

Apart from this I also read three essays from an old edition of The Reader’s Digest New Pocket Companion belonging to my wife. Two of these essays, ‘The Night I Met Einstein’ by Jerome Weidman, an American playwright and novelist, and ‘When You Dread Failure’ by A.J. Cronin, the Scottish novelist and physician, were interesting. I read Cronin’s piece in context of The Citadel where the main protagonist is a doctor and realised just how seriously the author took himself as a physician first and then as a writer.

Meanwhile, on May Day, I resolved to read one story every day from May 1 through May 31. Yesterday, I read Butcher by the late mystery author Richard S. Prather. He knew how to write about mutilated victims without being gory. I’m basing my opinion on just that one story. I'll be reading short stories across different categories though noir fiction, western, detective-mystery, and espionage will dominate my reading. In the first week of June I'll line up all 31 stories I read. It will be a labour of love and, hopefully, revive my reading spirit.