Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969

Entry for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Click on the link and discover films and television series you may have missed.

In a cheeky post on Facebook a few days ago, I observed that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) could well have been the original Brokeback Mountain (2005). I’m sure this is not a new thought. It has probably occurred to others who have seen both films and written about it too.

Partners in crime, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), don't share the sexual relationship and emotional chemistry that Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) do in Ang Lee's heartbreaking film.

Yet, the relationship that Cassidy and the Kid have, as they rob trains in the US and hold up banks in Bolivia, is no less special. They nurture a strong bond of friendship and mutual respect. The outlaws are together from the beginning of the film—covering each other’s backs, drawing comfort from one another, each finding strength in the other's presencetill the very end.

The Cassidy-Kid relationship is not as complicated as that of Ennis and Jack, who marry their girlfriends eventually. They are not physically intimate nor do they pine for each other, although they do sleep with the same woman, Etta Place (Katharine Ross), the Kid’s lover. But it's not about her.

My favourite part in the film is when Cassidy and the Kid get to know each other better during a prolonged run from a dogged US posse, through barren lands and rocky mountains. In one particular scene, the Kid dumps his horse and rides behind Cassidy in an effort to throw off their pursuers. It doesn’t work. It is this adventurous journey, characterised by quiet fear, mild candour and wry humour, that brings them closer in a nonsexual way.

The final scene, when Cassidy and the Kid try and shoot their way out of a hopeless situation, is somewhat reminiscent of a Bollywood film where two lovers jump off a cliff because their parents oppose their relationship. The "boys" ride into the twilight together.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a very likeable and an entertaining western film that could have also been a poignant and tragic gay story. Had it been one, it'd probably have been ahead of its time. What do you think?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Presumption of Death by Perri O’Shaughnessy, 2003

Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. P.S.: This week Todd Mason is hosting FFB over at his blog Sweet Freedom.

Presumption of Death is the ninth book in the Nina Reilly legal suspense and mystery series written by Perri O’Shaughnessy, the pseudonym of sisters Mary and Pamela O'Shaughnessy of California.

Nina Reilly is a successful lawyer with a penchant for difficult cases. She practices out of Lake Tahoe. In this novel, however, Nina comes to Carmel Valley in Monterey County to give her life a new direction. She lives with her boyfriend, private investigator Paul van Wagoner, with whom she shares a close but complicated relationship.

Carmel Valley is where Nina faces the biggest test of her career. Just as she is settling down in the place where she started her career, Wish, the 21-year-old son of her former assistant Sandy Whitefeather, is arrested on suspicion of lighting fires in the valley, destroying homes and property, and causing the suspected death of his no-good jobless friend Danny Cervantes.

Wish is close to both Nina and Paul who feel responsible for his welfare and want to clear his name. He reminds Nina of her own estranged son. Paul feels they owe it to Sandy to get her son out of jail. Wish has been assisting the PI on his cases. The three are like family without being related.

Did Wish ignite the fires? Did he use arson to kill his friend? Or was he framed by one or more people with a dark and sinister motive?

A bigger question—is Danny really dead? The body found after the last fire was charred and was identified as Danny’s from a belt decorated with conchos, small silver medallions. The autopsy revealed a skull injury. Wish is taken into custody because a woman named Ruthie, who picks up stray cats, claimed to have seen the two men in a car and presumed they were the arsonists. Later in the book, the cat lady is found mysteriously dead in her car.

Apart from Ruthie, Presumption of Death has several interesting characters, all of whom are suspects in the eyes of Nina and Paul. There are married couples, old and new, harbouring secrets and fantasies; a creepy and unpleasant young man called Robert ‘Coyote’ Johnson who lives on a dirt road in a canyon with Nate, his terrified younger brother; and Danny’s reclusive but charming uncle Ben Cervantes.

Any of these people could have started the fires in a premeditated move to halt the rapid development of Carmel Valley—the replacement of cottages with condos and mansions, the displacement of old habitants and the handicapped—and let Wish take the rap. Wish and Danny were local Native Americans and were anti-development.

Presumption of Death is an engaging story with some implied elements, like the real wildfires in Carmel Valley in California.
The Nina-Paul relationship is realistic. Although they have their differences, with Nina being more headstrong of the two, they are on the same wavelength. They sound like a newly-married couple next door. The pace is slow in the first-half of the 443-page book, as the author describes the village atmosphere and the ways of disparate neighbours in some detail. The narrative style is elegant but casual, almost conversational. At one point I wanted to put away the book (which I never do) but I was glad I read through, as the suspense built up in the second-half with the action shifting to the courtroom

Perri O’Shaughnessy paints a deceptive picture of Carmel Valley whose landscape is not as beautiful as it would seem and whose residents are not as peace-loving as they appear to be. Nina and Paul pursue their investigation with relentless zeal and considerable risk, as they unravel the chilling truth in, what I thought, was an unexpected twist to a decent legal thriller.

The Nina Reilly novels

01. Motion to Suppress, 1995
02. Invasion of Privacy, 1996
03. Obstruction of Justice, 1997
04. Breach of Promise, 1998
05. Acts of Malice, 1999
06. Move to Strike, 2000
07. Writ of Execution, 2001
08. Unfit to Practice, 2002
09. Presumption of Death, 2003
10. Unlucky in Law, 2004
11. Case of Lies, 2005
12. Show No Fear, 2008
13. Dreams of the Dead, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Drabble #5: A story in 100 words

Mike Hammer sat in a quiet corner in the library and read My Gun is Quick by Mickey Spillane.

“Excuse me, sir. What is that book you are reading?”

Mike looked up into the grim faces of a police inspector and a constable. The librarian, colour draining from her cheeks, lurched against a bookcase.

How dare you! Books about guns, sex, and violence are banned.

The inspector held a pair of handcuffs. “You are under arrest.”

“I don’t think so.”

The gun in Mike’s hand coughed...once, then twice.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Discovering Erma Bombeck

"When humour goes, there goes civilisation."

Some of that humour died with Erma Bombeck in April 1996. 

I first heard of the American author and humourist in the late nineties and read about her work only after I had access to the internet. Then, about a decade ago, I bought a few paperbacks in a secondhand bookshop and was hooked by her clean, elegant, and thoughtful humour. She saw the funny side of everyday life, marriage, family, children, relationships, jobs, dreams, and even issues like post-natal depression. There was a distinct flavour to her humour writing that put me at ease as I read.

Last evening, I bought one more book, I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise: Children Surviving Cancer (1989), a grim and sobering read compared to her previous books. The book is not without humour, except it's not her own. Bombeck sees and hears the wonderful stories of brave children and teenagers who survived cancer and is amazed when she learns how humour and laughter and optimism helped the kids beat the odds.

As she prepared to write the book, Bombeck wondered if there could be humour in such a serious topic. Her doubts were cleared when one kid told her, "Would you be happier if we cried all the time?" She was convinced. Bombeck donated all the money earned from the sale of this book to cancer research. 

Every once in a while I read Erma Bombeck. I leaf through her books at random, in much the same way I read spiritual books. Humour and philosophy, there's not much difference. Both put me in a good mood. That's the idea of reading most anything.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Green Zone, 2010

My entry for Tuesday's Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

I discovered Green Zone (2010), directed by Paul Greengrass, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006), the book on which it is loosely based, quite by accident.

After watching the film unexpectedly on cable, I read about it online and found that it was adapted from the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, an award-winning Indian-American journalist.

Chandrasekaran was former Bureau Chief of The Washington Post in Baghdad had a ringside view of America’s 2003 war in Iraq. He was until recently National Editor at the paper and, apparently, left the Post to start his own venture.

I plan to read Imperial Life in the Emerald City because I have been following events in Iraq and the Middle East ever since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Before I talk about the film, here is the synopsis of the book.

The Green Zone, Baghdad, 2003: in this walled-off compound of swimming pools and luxurious amenities, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority set out to fashion a new, democratic Iraq. Staffed by idealistic aides chosen primarily for their views on issues such as abortion and capital punishment, the CPA spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies.

In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate portrait of life inside this Oz-like bubble, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. This is a quietly devastating tale of imperial folly, and the definitive history of those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.

I think the common thread between film and book is that things didn’t go as America planned in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war. Democracy cannot replace dictatorship overnight. Any regime change and especially a forced one brings its own set of challenges. There are serious consequences as we have seen in the years following US withdrawal. Iraq seems to be worse off than it was under Saddam, however despotic his regime was.

While George Bush senior was largely justified in launching Operation Desert Shield, his son’s invasion of Iraq thirteen years later had less to do with weapons of mass destruction and more to do with conquering Iraq and replacing Saddam with a puppet regime. Green Zone exposes the lies Bush and his neocon buddies told the world, questions the justification for American involvement, and reveals the deceptions and internal conflicts of agencies like Pentagon and CIA.

Caught in the crossfire of conspiracy are Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his men whose mission is to find the weapons—based on secret information given by an Iraqi named Magellan—and bring in Al-Rawi, a powerful general in the Iraqi Republican Guard. The powers-that-be have good reason to capture Rawi for he can nail America's lie.

During a tense standoff between Miller and Rawi, the general reveals that Iraq got rid of the weapons in the early nineties but Washington didn’t want the world to know the truth. And that might well have been the case.

General Al Rawi: Your government wanted to hear the lie, Mr. Miller... they wanted Saddam out and they did exactly what they had to do... this is why you are here...

Rawi, who was on America’s 55 most wanted list, is currently serving a life sentence for his role in the suppression of the 1991 rebellions in Iraq.

Green Zone has the feel of an action-packed documentary and that’s partly because the events and people seem all too real, including WSJ reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) who suspects the truth and lets Miller in on the secret. The last hour of the film is shot almost entirely in the dark and shadowy lanes of Baghdad, as Miller and his men chase Al Rawi. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder—"Did this really happen?”—and leaves you balancing on the seesaw of fact and fiction.

The very talented Matt Damon is somewhat expressionless but he does well as a conscientious soldier in a war that should have never taken place. Other notable actors include Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson. The film was shot in Spain, Morocco and England though the viewer wouldn't know. 

Director Paul Greengrass seems to favour Damon who he cast in The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) in the Bourne Trilogy. The actor is set to reprise the role of Jason Bourne in the namesake movie slated for a July release. Apart from these films, Greengrass has made Captain Phillips (2013), United 93 (2006) and Bloody Sunday (2002), all very intense and hair-raising. Clearly, he has a penchant for real-life stories laden with drama and action.

If you enjoyed films like American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Black Hawk Down, you’ll probably like the lesser-known Green Zone, but don’t go in with too many expectations.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Pigeon-Blood Red by Ed Duncan, 2016

Voyage is making Cleveland-based writer Ed Duncan’s latest novel Pigeon-Blood Red into an action-adventure movie. The 184-page book, which is described as “a fast-paced and suspenseful crime thriller,” is published by Zharmae Publishing Press

I have not read the book, though I have been invited to do so.

© Book Publicity Services
According to the synopsis, “Pigeon-Blood Red tells the story of underworld enforcer Richard ‘Rico’ Sanders, who believed his next assignment to be an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss's priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. The chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hitman finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime.”

Further, “As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision—follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?”

“It’s always been said that you should write what you know. I am a lawyer—as is a pivotal character in the novel who is being pursued by a hitman—and I'm excited to be able to use my legal training creatively as well as professionally,” Duncan was quoted as saying in an email sent to me by Book Publicity Services.

Ed Duncan, a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School, was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio, for many years. He is working on the second installment in the proposed trilogy.

Both the paperback and Kindle version of Pigeon-Blood Red are available at Amazon.