Entertaining and instantly forgettable, that's Red.  I spent the $5.99 in Comcast On Demand fees to watch the film because there was nothing else in the library that was appealing, and I heard that it was an adaptation of the comic.  I have since found that the adaptation was loose at best.  This is not to say that I have read the original and am poo-pooing the film version based on its lack of adherence.  If this film were adapted straight from the comic, I should judge the comic to be poorly plotted.

I'm going to jump right to a part of the film that stuck out as incongruent with the nature of the film; that is, bullets fly, explosions happen, and only the bad guys get killed.  In the middle of this, our heroes surrounded by a team of killers, elect to sacrifice one of their own so they can sneak out the back door.  A little more thought (or less thought?) could have concocted (yet another) ridiculously implausible and bombastic escape for the heretofore (and subsequently) untouchable assassin team.  It sticks out like a sore thumb in a film that's just ridiculous and fun.  Coincidentally, the sacrificial lamb is the token black character of the entire ensemble (and film, I think), so actually there is historical precedent.

Other than that, a 'meh' thumbs up and a good film to watch when it goes into heavy rotation on TNT or FX next year.  Not worth five bucks, though.


Black Swan

I’ve heard that having a boisterous, unbehaved audience actually enhances the experience of viewing horror films in theaters.  For all other films, conversations, texting, guffawing, is always irritatingly distracting and frankly rude.  So, what to make of a plebian audience during the screening I saw of “Black Swan”, a disturbing, brave, profound, entrancing horror movie?  Do I pity them for not having the intelligence to see director Aronofsky’s bold metaphors for a woman’s eternal struggle between Madonna and whore?  When some boorish woman laughs at the unnerving presence of Natalie Portman’s mother in her room as she struggles to assert control over her own dormant sexuality, the reaction is distracting, but more than that sadly inappropriate, like laughing at someone else’s tragic misfortune; there’s something wrong with you.  When another patron giggles at the winged transformation of Portman later, I wonder if they have ever been in a museum or experienced art.  The audience participation of people who are just plain tragically dim themselves is something I have come to expect and dread every time out to the theater.  When someone next to you is texting, and you ask them to please not do that, and they reply “When I’m finished”, what else is there to do?  It feels like its more frequent these days, but give me a dark, empty movie theater over a crowd any day.
PS: “Black Swan” is amazing.


Dan Simmons' novel “Drood” imagines the final years of Charles Dickens’ life told through the eyes of his real-life contemporary Wilkie Collins.  Collins himself, a very popular novelist of the time, is revealed to be a delusional, egotistical drug-addict whose behavior and unreliability as the narrator lend chilling tension to the mystery centered on Dickens’ encounter with the mysterious title character. 
Simmons’ research on Dickens is richly rewarding, and the horror of the real situation that unfolds throughout the novel, with various twists and turns, is a compelling and satisfying read.  It almost makes me wish I liked Dickens.

The Lion and the Cobra

It seems so long ago, and really it kind of was, when Sinead O'Connor first crashed into and dominated the alternative music scene way back in 1990 with her second album, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got".  That album's signature song, "Nothing Compares 2U", written by Prince, was anywhere and everywhere that year.  The album was nominated for four Grammy Awards, in 1991, winning the award for Best Alternative Music Performance (not accepted by Sinead) and sold over seven million records.  It was an incredibly successful -- and very very good -- album... but ridiculously overmatched compared to her stunning debut three years earlier of "The Lion and the Cobra".

"The Lion and the Cobra" is infused with a visceral intensity, conveyed by O'Connor's stunning vocal range and projection that comes through even on the quietest notes.  "Jackie" announces the album with a soft whisper and ends two minutes and twenty-eight seconds later with O'Connor's voice high-pitched wailing that grabs the listener and makes you sit up straight.  With a slight pause, "Mandika", the most successful "pop" single, jumps right in and assures you that O'Connor plays both the singer and entertainer with equal ease.

The third song, "Jerusalem" is acoustics, synthesizer, and angry, religiously vague lyrics that stirs while taking a much-fought-over city's name and making it into something I could actually sing along to.  Until over course she belts out some ever-rising hoots toward the end to remind me that her range is just flat beyond me.  After soaring so high, "Just Like U Said It Would B", takes her fertility and faith personal, asking (God?) if he/she will be her lover, her mama alternating in pleas and taunts.  Later, on "I Want Your (Hand on Me)", she returns to demonstrate her command over sexual want, right before lamenting powerfully on "Drink Before the Water".

The final song ("Just Call Me Joe"), featuring a bare, distorted guitar for much of the song, gives a perfect backdrop for Sinead's soft, gentle song of anonymity and love.  The album is astounding in its feeling, its power, and its atmosphere.

PS.  Several years later, Sinead O'Connor's career and image were damaged by her pre-fashionable bashing of the Catholic church and what are now widely exposed rampant child abuse cases.  That irrational, feral hatred from religious champions foisted upon this vibrant, inventive signer makes me ill to this day.

The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown’s third Robert Langdon novel is another breathless search for hidden knowledge, this time through the Washington, D.C. metro area.  If you liked the previous installments, you’ll like this one.  There’s nothing in it that is either extraordinary or detracting; in other words, entirely forgettable.  It has been about two months since I read this book, and I can scarcely remember what the coveted macguffin was about.  (Isn’t that the definition of a macguffin?)
However, what I did take away from the book is a writing lesson.  Having toiled now and again with writing stories, it was interesting to me how adversely I felt about Brown missing a relatively trivial fact in the course of his story.  During one of the chase sequences, our heroes jump on the Metro to escape (ostensibly) to Virginia.  Brown makes note of describing the hard plastic seats.  Having ridden the Metro just about every morning to work for the past five years, either Brown’s research was outdated, or he just threw in some details to give a visceral feel to the scene.  Either way, the gamble actually threw me for a loop.  Although it is clearly inconsequential to the book whether there are cushioned seats or plastic seats, I found it just, well, offensive that the author would get it wrong.  It didn’t really make me wonder what other shortcuts his story took on research, but reminded me of a guideline of writing – write what you know.
It’s funny to recall, but that trivial error is the single more memorable thing I took out of that novel.  The tension is already building to see if they will correct this in the film, or stay “true to the book” by ripping out Metro seats to accommodate Dan Brown’s vision of a more uncomfortable transit system.  Perhaps I should heed this more carefully, as this may indicate Dan is actually his switched doppelganger from a parallel universe where plastic seats are in vogue.  He has been very clever up to this point, but this mistake has exposed him.
Footnote: According to Wikipedia, the book was in development for years, "originally expected in 2006".  So I'll assume old research instead of the traitorous evil doppleganger thingy.  For now.

The American

It’s a quiet film, slowly moving, but amazingly compelling.  It’s not going to end well, but it will end for all involved.  Call it intuition, but the lead character’s (George Clooney) act in the first five minutes pretty much foreshadows that he will pay a huge price.  I simpler, more formulaic movie might have let the hero off the hook during a revealing conversation with his boss shortly thereafter.  But this American knows what he did, and had no illusions, or rather delusions, about his victim’s loyalties.  The heavy fact of this imbues the remainder of the picture with a intense dread and inexorability that fills the long silences.
The American (“Jack” or “Edward”, depending on who he is talking to) escapes an opening assassination attempt and reluctantly accepts “one last job” from his boss.  The American trusts no one and finds his solace in a small town with a beautiful prostitute (Violante Placido), who spending a significant portion of the picture either partially or fully naked.  It’s a good thing she’s eye-poppingly beautiful.  Also attractive is his female assassin counterpart, for which he is building a special gun for her work.  At a moment of intimacy after a weapons demonstration, it feels as if she expects to be seduced by him.  But his perhaps surprises himself by remaining distant for want of his new companion, who pressed herself into his life.  We know by now that is a dangerous thing for her to want.
The film’s only misstep for me is the plot of the Italian priest who befriends the American.  It felt a little forced to insert some redemptive figure who has their own secrets and shame.  Otherwise, “The American” is a compelling, satisfying visual treat.