Archive for January, 2008

Eastern Promises on DVD

Eastern Promises on DVD.  Director David Cronenberg states during an interview included in the bonus features that his “desire was to make a complex, textured film.”  He succeeded tremendously.  Viggo Mortensen is excellent as an intelligent, sometimes creepy, criminal trying to move up and earn his “stars” within a London-based Russian mob family run by Armin Mueller-Stahl, the outwardly friendly patriarch with a heart as cold as ice.  Naomi Watts, a midwife at a local hospital, stumbles into this violent world when she takes a diary from a prostitute who dies during delivery and attempts to have it translated in an effort to find information about the newborn’s family back in the motherland. 

The chemistry between Mortensen and Watts is very good and despite a few predictable plot twists, the high level of tension and suspense is maintained throughout the film.  Mortensen’s performance drives the movie and is certainly worthy of his Oscar nomination.  Because the Russians favor knives over guns, the violence depicted may be too graphic for some viewers, especially in the early scenes.  This is a first-rate, believable thriller.


Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn.  Normally, if I’m 200 pages into a mystery and no crime has yet to be committed, I either get a little antsy or totally bored.  Although it does take a while for any criminal action to get started in this second volume of the Lady Julia Grey series, the time spent learning about each character is not misspent and is quite enjoyable.  This is due to the excellent work of Raybourn, whose first story featuring Julia and her dark and mysterious suitor, Nicholas Brisbane, Silent in the Grave, was also quite good.  This time around it’s Christmastime at Bellmont Abbey, the converted monastery that now is the family home to Lord March, Julia’s father.  The company gathered there includes two of Julia’s brothers, one with a new foreign wife, an attractive Italian suitor, her father’s female companion, an irritable aunt, two poor cousins, one of whom is getting married to a self-made businessman, his own poor kinsman, and the soon-to-be Lord Wargrave in the form of Brisbane, plus his new fiancée.  Once this roller coaster of a story begins its downward plunge, it really takes off with a dead guest in the sanctuary, attempted poisonings, jewel thefts, disappearing guests, a ghost or two and everyone stuck in the abbey by a snowstorm.  The final solution is merely adequate and the romance between Julia and Brisbane is a bit overdone at times, but the twists and turns along the way are first-rate and will keep readers interested throughout.

War on DVD

War on DVD.  You would expect that a movie headlined by Jet Li and Jason Statham would be an action adventure thriller with lots of fantastic martial arts fighting.  Unfortunately, with “War” you’d only be half-right.  There was significantly less martial arts than I was hoping for, despite a fairly high level of violence overall.  What saves this movie from being a huge disappointment is the twisting, changing storyline complete with a bizarre and totally unexpected revelation at the end.  Statham plays a FBI agent in charge of a task force assigned to Asian Organized Crime, whereas Li plays Rogue, an assassin who seems to be working both sides of a battle between a Japanese Yakuza clan and a Chinese Triad family.  Rogue’s character is interesting and the plot twists will keep viewers attention, but after hearing the director’s (Philip Atwell) commentary on the action scenes in the DVD’s bonus features and reading an interview with him about the film, I believe it’s his fault these two stars were not allowed to show their entire range of skills.  This was Atwell’s first attempt at directing a feature film after several very successful years in the music video business.

Few comments on TV

Just a few quick comments on stuff I’ve recently seen on television.  First, on Friday our regional Fox Sports station was rebroadcasting a hockey game featuring our local team.  The game had been played the previous night on the west coast and, given the late start time, I had not been able to stay up for the whole thing.  At one point, an audio message was read that “due to time constraints, we move forward in the game.”  I don’t have a problem with compressing the game a little, especially since it’s a repeat from the previous night.  My problem is that during the three minutes of game action that they skipped, someone scored a goal.  The first goal of the game.  With 6:57 left in the second period.  Who’s the idiot who made this editing decision?  I understand hockey is more than just scoring, but Fox Sports, please show viewers all the scoring action in the future!

On a brighter note, if you haven’t seen the PBS series “Pioneers of Television”, I highly recommend it.  Each hour-long episode of this four-part series looks at one genre of early television shows and how they evolved during the early years of the medium.  They analyze how these shows were put together, the stars that set the standards for others to follow and the changes that happened along the way.  There are lots of wonderful archival clips and hundreds of interviews.  The four genres studied are: sitcoms, late night, variety and game shows.  Unfortunately, the series may be finished in your market, but there is a DVD available.

I also love the relatively new ads, especially the one where the whole community wakes up early and struggles to keep Monday morning at bay.  Very funny.  BBDO continues to produce great work.  Can’t wait to see what they’ve got for the Super Bowl.

More historical mystery resources from bookstores

I’ve mentioned before that I am a heavy library patron, not necessarily a book buyer, but it has been a while since I last reviewed any bookstores, such as Gaslight Books or Clues Unlimited, which have taken the time to create special pages devoted to historical mysteries.  This time I went through the entire list of mystery bookstores provided The Mystery Place, but found only three which met this criteria.

Aunt Agatha’s bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI has a page for historicals which lists twenty-one authors and a total of thirty-four books.  It’s a pretty even split between U.S. and non-U.S. settings and, with just a few exceptions, all of the books are linked to extensive reviews.

One of the category codes in the online catalog at Murder by the Book in Portland, OR is “period.”  The definition for inclusion in this category is a period setting through World War II.  There are six sub-categories:  Cradle Civilizations (Mysteries set in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome), Other Early Cultures (Asian, Byzantine, & Mayan), Medieval, 16th-18th Century, 19th & Early 20th Century, and WWI through WWII.  Within each sub-category, books are arranged alphabetically by author.  Additional information, including multiple reviews from the major book review magazines, is available for many titles.

The staff at Mystery Loves Company in Maryland has created a title list for Middle Ages mysteries similar to the one from Gaslight Books.  It includes author, title, and price information, plus a very brief note on the period.  It won’t be much use for experienced readers in the genre, but for newcomers, it could be helpful.  They also have created a category code for historical mysteries, which allows online browsers to see all titles in stock in this genre.

None of the three resources are outstanding, but historical mysteries is still such a small sub-genre for booksellers that I felt I should make mention of my appreciation for their effort.  As always, if anyone out there knows of libraries or bookstores with specialized lists for HM books, please let me know.

Steven Saylor’s list of links

Steven Saylor, author of the very good Roma Sub Rosa series featuring Gordianus the Finder, introduces the next adventure in the series in May with The Triumph of Caesar.  In the meantime, his website has an excellent list of useful sites for readers of historical mysteries and fiction and history in general.  The emphasis, quite naturally, is on sites with a Roman theme, but there are also several related to Greece and to mysteries as an overall genre.  He does not review the sites, but does provide a one-sentence description of each.  Some of the sites I’ve mentioned before, such as Ancient Greece in Fiction, The Detective and the Toga, and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Roman collection.  Others, such as Italian mysteries and Criminal History, are on my list for further investigation and reviews.  Saylor generously links to other authors as well, including Mary Renault, Lindsey Davis, and Caroline Lawrence.  Finally, there are also links to several mystery magazines and associations.

The Sandbox: dispatches from troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

The Sandbox: dispatches from troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Unlike the fictional, though realistic, action portrayed in The Kingdom, these essays are all true accounts written by United States military personnel or their families.  In the summer of 2006, Garry Trudeau, author of the Doonesbury comic strip, suggested to editor David Stanford that a military blog be added to their web site and The Sandbox was born.  Although several thousand milblogs already existed on the web, Stanford agreed that this blog could serve as a link “to people without a direct personal connection to anyone deployed” and as “a forum in which [service members could] write about their experiences” without having to maintain a site of their own.  In this first collection of posts on the blog and from other milblogs, readers hear from soldiers overseas, spouses at home, returned vets, and caregivers.  The writers bring together many themes: the boredom of inactivity, the mental strain on any trip outside the secured bases, the children of Iraq and Afghanistan, the comradery with their fellow soldiers and the friendships made with their translators.  Readers will also learn about the differences in the two countries and the challenges faced by the troops in each location.  I wish that there were more female voices presented, but that is only a minor quibble.  The posts are thoughtful, sometimes humorous, occasionally emotional, but always informative and capture the lives of the military in a way that the media and Hollywood never can.  I’ve added The Sandbox to my blog aggregator and look forward to continued entries in the future.

Contact me

ascot6361 at

RSS feed