Friday, October 31, 2008

Yo, she-bitch...let's go

Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up. To celebrate Halloween, here are a few clips from the greatest and most quotable horror series of all time: Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" trilogy. Will there ever be a fourth Evil Dead, now that Raimi has made a bajillion dollars directing the Spider-Man films? We can only hope. But whatever happens just remember...good, bad...I'm the guy with the gun.

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Enough Already

I get the whole Joe the Plumber thing. I understand why McCain made him the most famous plumber since Mario. He gave a face to regular Americans who might be adversly affected by Barack Obama's tax plan. Joe had every right to ask the questions he did, and I understand why McCain made a big deal out of him. Joe was a regular American. "Joe Six-Pack" in the flesh. McCain held him up as a sort of ideal, a symbol of working class Americans everywhere who just wanted to get by and live the dream. I was outraged when the press started criticizing Joe--it wasn't his fault he was given 15 minutes--and felt the man should have been left alone. Obviously Joe felt differently. 

Fine. No problem. People presumably less intelligent with less to offer have gotten famous for far less (Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, everyone who's ever been on "The Hills").

But now it's gone too far.

Joe the Plumber is actively stumping for John McCain. Yesterday, McCain said that if elected, "I'm going to Washington and I'm going to bring Joe the plumber with me." I have no idea if McCain was being facetious, but something tells me he was not.

So what's my problem with this? 

By going on the trail with McCain, Joe Wurzelbacher is now officially a McCain surrogate. He is no longer "Joe Six-Pack." He is a spokesman for John McCain, not a regular citizen. Makes no mistake about it: Joe Wurzelbach is a member of John McCain's campaign. And when Joe Wurzelbacher makes statements like these, agreeing that an Obama presidency will be "Death to Israel," he needs to be disavowed like Bill Ayers and Reverand Wright. These words are damaging. Not only because they're untrue, but because they're divisive and will undoubtedly cause many impressionable Americans to believe Obama is some sort of anti-Semite, or at the very least not be as sensitive to Israel's issues as he should be.

Make no mistake. Joe Wurzelbacher is officially a McCain surrogate. He speaks on behalf of the campaign. If Joe wants to go off and try his hand at a singing career, or even a run for Congress, I wish him the best. But I'm tired of fear mongering. I'm tired of divisive politics. It's one thing for an American to be uninformed and make poor judgments. That might not be admirable, but it's allowed. It's a totally different thing when those uninformed opinions are not only validated, but endorsed by a man who very well could be the President of the United States. 

So do us a favor. Don't present this man as some sort of policy expert. He is not. If you officially endorse his views (emphasis on officially), you should be held accountable when those views are inappropriate. 

Thankfully some members of the press are calling Joe out on his remarks. It shouldn't be too much to ask that the man who might run this country, who claims to want to bring us all together, do the same.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Signing Tonight

I will be signing books tonight at at Barnes & Noble on 86th street between 2nd and 3rd in NYC at 7:00 pm. A portion of all proceeds will go to benefit Breakthrough New York, a wonderful organization that helps children and young adults pursue careers in education. Hope to see you there!

(special thanks to MF!)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 9: Moving Day

--Vic and Ronnie break into Shane's apartment. The Vendrell family is gone, but Vic finds an unopened bottle of medicine in the fridge. Looks like Shane's son Jackson is sick, and reliable old Shane forgot to take his medication. So even though Shane is on the run, Vic knows he won't be able to go far without getting his son medicine.

--Back at the barn, Claudette's first order of business is to officially disband the Strike Team, despite the fact that they have the highest arrest rate on the force. Needless to say Ronnie and Julien aren't to happy about this, as Ronnie is on desk duty after the shooting and Julien is back wearing blues and partnering with--gack--Tina. Man, Julien is just getting the short end of the stick this season. Ronnie asks Julien to update him on the search for Shane (so he can share the info with Vic) but Julien, ever the company man, says he won't do it without Claudette's approval. Ronnie can't argue without drawing suspicion.

--Dutch is getting cozy with Lloyd Dressler's mom, Rita, who puts the moves on him before Dutch stops her. Between Ronnie's date last week and Dutch getting to second base, hell must be freezing over (and Vic has not yet slept with Olivia, something I would have bet on occurring by episode 3). Dutch wants to get close to Lloyd, but realizes he's getting too close to Rita and might hurt her. So he leaves, but the next day Rita comes to the barn, having been told by Lloyd about Dutch's suspicions. She nearly slaps him before storming out, but that night she comes by, now beginning to see the signs of her son's illness. Rita breaks down, refusing to admit her son might be a monster, but knowing in her heart it may be true. This is reminiscent of Kleavon Gardner's sister, who refused to believe but eventually turned her brother in.

--Billings's ex-wife and daughter come by the barn to inform him that a paroled sex offender has moved onto their block. He and Dutch warn the guy, but that's not enough for the ex-Billingses. When Dutch refuses to help him, Billings plants kiddie porn on the guy then calls in an anonymous tip. And when the offender is arrested, Billings is a hero to his family, but not to Dutch, who knows Billings broke the law to serve his own needs. Between this, the Quik Mealer and the lawsuit, Billings is beginning to look like a pettier version of Vic.

--Vic is struggling without his badge, as word on the street has spread and he doesn't have the same juice. He does manage to track down a forger who made new passports for Shane, Mara and Jackson under the name Shaun Hoover (I was thoroughly disappointed Shane didn't go with Mr. and Mrs. Cletus Van Dam). Ronnie runs a bulletin through drug stores and hospitals and Vic finds that Shane filled a prescription. He cases local motels until one manager identifies Shane. Vic breaks into Shane's room, but the family has gone.

--A tip from Deena leads Julien to find that Shane has a new car. Ronnie finds out and tells Vic, who tracks it to a hospital where Shane and Mara have taken Jackson. After getting treatment for their son, Shane and Mara leave...only to find Vic waiting in the parking lot with a gun pointed at their heads. Just then a cop car rolls up, Shane points out Vic to the cop ("Officer that man has a gun!"), and since he can't turn Shane in, Vic is detained while Shane escapes from under his nose.

--Claudette goes to Ronnie, offering him two choices: first, the Vic/Shane route, where he can find himself disgraced and out of a job. Or he can start new, and tell everything he knows. Ronnie goes halfway, admitting that he and Vic knew that Shane killed Lem, but that they didn't want to tell Claudette until they had proof. This tides her over.

--Pezeula puts the sticks into Aceveda, introducing him to a power broker who will be aiding the mayoral campaign (adding a great quip that cannot be printed on a family blog). When Aceveda tells ICE, they realize that the man--Guillermo Beltran--is a former government official turned Cartel security expert, which means Pezuela's operation is far bigger than simply Mexican gangs. While ICE is keeping Aceveda in the game, now that Vic is out Aceveda knows he's more valuable than ever, and since he's tired of being ICE's puppet he gets Olivia to guarantee massive good publicity for his eventual mayoral run. Vic goes to Olivia trying to stay in ICE's wheelhouse, but she tells him that without a badge he's no good to Pezuela and therefore no good to them. 

--When Mara makes her evening call to Corrine, she tells her that Vic was going to kill the whole family (true). Corrine watches her husband with growing horror, then lies to him when Mara hangs up, saying that Mara will never call back (false). It's clear that Corrine now knows exactly the kind of man her husband is. And while Shane and Mara hide out in an abandoned home ("I always told you I'd get you a mansion," he tells her), Vic finds his world growing ever smaller, his friends and family turning away for the last time. And it looks like without the one anchor in good, his badge, Vic has begun to fully drift to the side that perhaps he was always meant to be on.

Vic without a badge is a frightening thing, as we realize that the shield was the only thing keeping him at all on the right side of the law. He makes it clear he's willing to kill both Shane and Mara, and perhaps even Jackson. But now he sees that he's worth less than ever. No good to the cops, no good to the crooks, and no good to his family. His tender moment with Cassidey at the end is touching, only because we know Vic does care about his children yet, like Shane, cannot help but steer them down a path to destruction. Vic is beginning to look more and more like Joe Clark, the beaten down ex-cop without a dime or a family or a leg to stand on.

I found it very interesting that Shane is sticking to L.A., figuring that all the border stops and airports are looking out for him. He figures the family should wait until a major event, like the president being in town, when many cops are busy and they'll have a better chance for a clean getaway. This actually might be the smartest decision Shane has made, showing that maybe he and Vic, while not cut out for straight police work, would make pretty good criminals.

I'm a little annoyed that they haven't acknowledged Danny's departure, but the threads they have introduced this season (the eventual showdown between Vic and Shane, Ronnie's test of allegiance, Dutch's attempt to stop Lloyd Dressler, Aceveda in Pezuela's pocket) are being pulled tighter. The acting is top notch, and perhaps the most interesting characters this season are Ronnie and Mara, two people who at one point we thought had good hearts but now have put numerous lives in jeopardy. That Mara rebuffs Shane's attempt to save her, Jackson and their unborn child is just scary, yet realistic. The Vendrells are a family, in name and in blood, and I have a feeling that Vic and Shane aren't the only members of their family who will get burned.

And I'm still upset Shane didn't change his name to Cletus Van Dam.


Monday, October 27, 2008

R.I.P. Tony Hillerman

The mystery world has lost some giants this year. Farewell Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. You will be missed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Max Payne review

I was excited for this movie. I even wrote a post about it. And now after seeing it this afternoon, I have to say that I'm really disappointed. Not because the movie is terrible. It is not a good movie, but nor is it terrible. I'm disappointed because it should have been good. Many of the elements of a good movie are there, but they're all jumbled about and mismatched and in the end the whole is nowhere near the sum of its parts.

Max Payne is a terrific video game. Not just for the gameplay itself, but for the story, the atmosphere, the noir, the feeling that Max Payne is carrying the burdens of hell on his shoulders. I still believe Sam Lake, who wrote the game (and whom the original Max was modeled on), could write a flat out awesome novel (hint hint, editors). Part of the problem with the movie has been pointed out by the designers, in that we don't know the full scope of Max's past until halfway through the film. Interestingly, that's when the movie hits its stride. In the game, part of what keeps the pace is that Max is wanted for murder, on the run from cops who believe he killed one of their own, while at the same time unraveling the mystery of who killed his family. Max is burning the candle from both ends. In the first half of the movie he's an outcast, more a nuisance that vigilante. The first half is a C-/D+. The second half is a solid B/B+ (terribly anticlimactic ending notwithstanding). As a whole I give it a C, but the kind of C where I'm even more disappointed because it has so many ingredients to be a really good action/noir movie.

The first half of the movie is grim. Not just grim, but dull. It's a police procedural without the snap, Sin City without the wit. The cinematography is terrific throughout, but there's only so much sluggish dialogue we take take through neat shots of snow and rain. In the game, Max Payne is a tormented soul, a man on a suicide mission from the very beginning. In the movie, Max is more glum and depressed than tormented. He frowns his way through the opening scenes. When cops tell the new guy to stay away from Max Payne, we assume it's simply because he's not a very good conversationalist. It's only halfway through--when we see what happened to Max's family and he sets out to get revenge--that the movie develops a pulse.

The performances are a shame. Wahlberg is fine, but he needed more Dignam. Max should be a coiled snake, ready to strike at any moment. The other actors are fine in their roles, but are not given much. In the game, Mona Sax is mysterious, dangerous, elusive. In the movie she's merely ornery (though the scene where she confronts Max with a baton is pretty good). Beau Bridges brings some needed gravity to his scenes, but loses all momentum with a needless plot twist. Ludacris (brilliant in "Crash") is wasted as the kind of generic cop Harvey Keitel has been playing for the last ten years who walks around saying things like, "Who authorized this?" And club Ragnarok--pulsing with satanic menace in the game-- is simply a generic drug warehouse. And while I actually did like how they gave Jack Lupino more of a background that makes sense within the film and game mythology, the big fight was a big letdown. The movie ends quite abruptly, with half a dozen or more loose ends that simply were not tied up. Not in the "get ready for the sequel" sense, but more, "we wanted this to clock in at under an hour and forty minutes and just didn't have time" sense.

In the second half, when Max invades Ragnarok and Aesir, it livens up considerably. There's some great camerawork (the scene with Max and the sniper is really cool), and when Max finally goes gung ho and just wreaks havoc in Aesir we finally get a sense of what the entire game was like. That's what "Max Payne" should have been. Max should be tortured, relentless, merciless, soulful. It's a weird comparison, but it should have had more "Gladiator" in it. The movie does have this in drips and drabs, and that's why this C is that much more disappointing.

A few random comments (Spoiler Alert):
--The ending of the game is terrific, and would have fit here perfectly. For whatever reason they scratched it. 
--If Lena Horne isn't going to matter at the end, why introduce her in the first place? They should have either let Max go after her, or kept B.B. as the main villain.
--What the hell happened to Mona? At least in the game there's a sense of mystery (is she alive or dead?). Once the elevator door closes in the film, it just seems like they forgot about her.
--I did think they did a pretty good job keeping the fight scenes relatively realistic. No fancy wire stunts, and the bad guys do shoot straight. I liked that Max took some major damage, and the "Not Yet" moments with his wife were surprisingly effective.
--Why was the best line from the trailer "When a man loses the people he cares about the most..." not in the movie?
--Why cast Marlo from "The Wire" (Jamie Hector) as a bad guy and give him nothing to do?
--Where has Chris O'Donnell been? (actually he was one of the most effective characters)
--I understand they couldn't get all the secondary characters from the game into the movie, so I'm glad they added a few nice touches for fans (i.e. Gognitti's self-storage).
--Did Max really not notice the Valkyrie wings until he saw the letterhead? They were on the wall in the Aesir building, I mean, he's not blind...
--The end of the game works so well because Max has spent the entire game in slums and creaky mansions, so when he makes his assault on the soulless steel Aesir building it really does feel like a different world. Yet in the movie he spends two or three scenes in Aesir before the final showdown. Just a bit anticlimactic, and I would have loved to see that helicopter come down in a fiery bal, Max standing at the edge looking at the wreckage, knowing it was all over. Maybe they ran out of movie, but that would have been a killer scene.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Foreign Editions

I just got covers for a few foreign editions, and felt like sharing them since it's easier than writing a full post. I'm often in the dark as to when my foreign editions are being released until they pop up on Google alerts. You can check out more foreign editions for THE MARK and THE GUILTY as well as Killer Year (I haven't seen any for THE STOLEN yet).

Italian edition of THE MARK

UK edition of KILLER YEAR

Australian edition of KILLER YEAR

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 8: Parricide

--Shane prepares for his strike against Vic and Ronnie, as we see a photo of him, Mara and Jackson in the background. A reminder that he and Vic have deluded themselves into believing that every rotten thing they've done has been for their families. Two Man, Shane's indentured assassin, surprises Ronnie coming home with a date (Ronnie has sex?), but botches the hit, accidentally hitting the girl in the arm. Meanwhile Shane waits in Vic's home with a gun aimed at the door, but Vic gets a call from Ronnie that draws him away before Shane can kill him. Shane is less than ten minutes into his plan and it's already gone haywire. Mara taking instructions on how to cover Shane's trail is pretty chilling, and confirms that she really is Shane's female equal.

--Pezuela meets with Vic, asking for Vic's help in closing a church that prevents one of his developments from getting a liquor license. Turns out the priest fathered an illegitimate child with a drug dealer's sister, and is being forced to provide haven for the dealers. Closing a church is low, even for Vic's standards, so he tries to find away to save the mother and son from the dealer while also keeping Pezuela close.

--Pezuela blackmails Aceveda into making him a part of Aceveda's eventual run for mayor, promising him funding and influence. Aceveda goes right to ICE, and finds Vic already there. Seems Pezuela is aware he's being watched, and is trying to consolidate his influence by getting the future mayor in his pocket. The ICE chief wants both Vic and Aceveda to play along and stay undercover, which Aceveda is far from comfortable with. Olivia convinces him that voters will respect a man who risked his life to nail a cartel kingpin, and that's all the convincing Aceveda needs. And as Vic says, "Don't worry, if Pezuela wants to kill you, it's me he'll hire to do the hit." That must be reassuring. On the way out, Vic tells Olivia that he's interested in taking on a spot with ICE once he's done at the barn. Olivia tells him it'll be a tough sell due to his spotty record, but she'll run it up the ladder.

--At the barn, all forces are mobilized to find Two Man. Shane is a nervous wreck, trying to impede the investigation at all turns and convince the rest of the team that Two Man deserves a dirt nap, not a jail cell. Shane is scared that Two Man might flip on him, which begs the question as to why he trusted him in the first place. This highlights again the difference between Shane and Vic. Vic has now proven that he can't kill Shane in cold blood--while Shane was very ready to kill both Vic and Ronnie as well as Two Man--and Vic would never entrust anything important to a random lowlife like Two Man. Sure enough Two Man gets picked up right away, but Shane manages to get the location of the gun to get rid of it to hurt Dutch and Billings's interrogation. Thanks to an assist by Vic, though, they get Two Man to crack and admit he was forced to carry out the hit by Shane. "I was his slave, the gun was my oar." An incredibly tense scene, as Shane slowly slinks out of the barn as Two Man gives up Dixie boy on a platter. This is probably the single biggest turning point in the series (for reasons I'll go into later).

--Shane escapes, but suddenly Mara appears at Corrine's door. She tells Corrine about Vic killing Terry Crowley and the money train heist, and the truth about the hit man in Corrine's home. She says that unless she and Vic keep Shane abreast of the cops' investigations, Shane will take Vic and Ronnie down hard. Corrine goes to the barn and confronts Vic (as is usual this season). Only this time, when confronted about Terry and the money train, Vic doesn't have the energy to deny it. "I've done things that I thought I could justify at the time, but are pretty hard to defend right now." Corrine agrees to help Vic one last time, but after that she's taking the kids and leaving for good (about six years too late). Losing his family is the price Vic has to pay to stay out of prison.

--Ronnie and Vic realize they need to find Shane before any other cops do, because even with their help it's only a matter of time before his dumb ass is found. And if he is found, Vic and Ronnie will never see daylight again. Vic knows, though, that if Shane has crossed state lines he won't be able to get out from under Claudette's nose to find him. Vic sees what he needs to do. He marches into Claudette's office, takes his badge off and hands it to her, officially resigning from the force. Claudette knows something is up, knows there's a reason Shane targeted Ronnie, and yells at Vic as he leaves, "If you try to get in the way of this investigation, just like you did with Lemansky, I'll lock your corrupt ass up." Vic smiles, offers one last pithy comment, and leaves the barn no longer a police officer. 

One of the best episodes ever, and a show where going forward nothing will ever be the same. For a long time, all of the worst deeds of the strike team have been kept secret, but with Two Man fingering Shane this is the first time the rest of the barn has had a real thread to pull. And what they're inevitably going to find won't be pretty. Vic handing in his badge was a powerful moment, as he seems to finally grasp the reality of his situation.

So now Vic is off the force, Shane is wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer, and for the first time Vic seems to realize the ramifications of what he's done. And it's only a matter of time before Claudette pieces together the truth. We really feel like we've entered the final lap, and with five episodes left every moment will matter. Vic knows he has nowhere else to go, and his attempt to get hired at ICE was, in a way, him waving the white flag. He's run out of options, run out of strings to pull (everyone he's tried to leverage has ended up hurt or dead like Robert Martin). And even though Vic managed to survive Shane's hit, he'll never again be a cop, and likely never have his family again. If he can kill Shane to stay out of prison and take a job at ICE, that's as far as he can possibly get. But now Claudette is on Vic's trail, knowing there had to be a reason Shane wanted Ronnie dead. It's only a matter of time before the full extent of the Strike Team's deeds are known. And I want to see Vic have to face his friends, his peers and his family when they are. I do wonder how this will affect Vic's relationship with Pezuela, since he'll be of little use to the cartel king without a badge.

I wasn't able to recap last week's episode, but my heart was in my throat when Danny left at the end. She sees what Corrine was never able to--that being a part of Vic's life endangers you and everyone you care about. I won't be surprised if we never see Danny again (though it was odd that it wasn't mentioned in this episode), but you can't fault her. She wants her son to grow up safe, with only positive role models. After what's happened to Cassidey, she knows being a part of Vic's life won't allow that. My quibbles so far are small, and are mainly that we spend too much time on the Olivia subplot at the expense of characters we've followed for years (Dutch and Julien in particular have had almost nothing to do this season). But this episode was a game changer, and the countdown is officially on.


Free Charlie Huston

No, Charlie Huston has not been imprisoned in some rank prison cell. Rather he's offering free downloads of his entire Hank Thompson Trilogy over at

I actually commented on Dave's blog yesterday about how I was introduced to Charlie (thanks Bonnie and Joe!), and how since that fateful day he's become one of my favorite contemporary authors, probably in my top five if not higher. The Hank Thompson trilogy is brilliant and brutal, but also surprisingly tender and heartbreaking. 

Though I haven't yet met Charlie (something that will hopefully be remedied), I do have one good Charlie Huston story. I was reading A DANGEROUS MAN on the subway one day, when a stranger tapped me on the shoulder. He was dressed kind of ratty, looked a little dirty, and I wasn't sure what he wanted. He said, "Is that a new Charlie Huston book?" I told him it was, and he told me he was a friend of Charlie's, and we chatted until my stop. I'm friendly with Charlie's editor, so next day I told him about this. His response: "I think all of Charlie's friends live in the subway."

So go to and read CAUGHT STEALING, SIX BAD THINGS and A DANGEROUS MAN. After that, pick up the Joe Pitt casebooks and THE SHOTGUN RULE. And if you're not a Huston junkie after all that, go stick a couple of lit cigarettes in your ears because you don't know first rate entertainment.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

From one American Hero to Another

"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That's not America. Is there something wrong with a seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion that he is a Muslim and might have an association with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America. I feel particularly strong about this because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay, was of a mother at Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star - showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life."
--Colin Powell

This is the absolutely wrenching photo General Powell was referring to. God bless Corporal Khan, and all the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect our country.

SNL Brings the Funny

Last night's episode was the best of the new SNL season. Heavy on the guest stars, heavy on the funny. And was anyone else worried Amy Poehler might actually give birth during her rap? Isn't she like 8.99999 months pregnant? Girl can work.  Big ups to Mark Wahlberg and Sarah Palin for being good sports, and to Josh Brolin who even made the Fart Face sketch watchable. Here are two choice clips:


Friday, October 17, 2008

Times reviews O'Reilly: World Yawns

In today's New York Times, Janet Maslin reviews Bill O'Reilly's new book, A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY. Now, when I saw the link for this review, I was intrigued. It's hardly a secret that O'Reilly has little respect for the Times, and the paper itself doesn't think much of O'Reilly. O'Reilly has declared the Times as "in the tank" for Obama, and insulted Bill Keller while taking tremendous glee at the paper's fading stock price (when O'Reilly says he's looking out for 'You', he means unless 'You' work for the 'Liberal Media'. To be fair, there are plenty of portly hypocrites on the left who love employees but hate employers, forgetting that even massive conglomerates employ regular people with bills to pay and families to feed). 

In a 2006 Times review of O'Reilly's CULTURE WARRIOR, Jacob Heilbrun delcares the host to be an "apostle of mediocrity and banality." So frankly, this could have been a fascinating review, since despite what the Times thinks about O'Reilly, he's inarguably one of the most popular and influential hosts on air. That he and the Times seem to have diametrically opposite worldviews makes the new book--a memoir--potentially interesting material for one enemy to truly understand the other.

It's safe to say that the audience that reads the Times and the audience that watches O'Reilly are for the most part on opposite ends of the political spectrum. But instead of offering real analysis into the book, the man, or why someone the left decries as a "bully" and a "dim bulb" has an audience triple that of Keith Olbermann, it offers up bloody red meat for liberals, a review that will make the left smile, cause O'Reilly to no doubt bash the Times on his program (he's called them out for slotting Times columnist Thomas Friedman's new book at #1 on the bestseller list despite O'Reilly's claims that he's outselling Friedman by 35%), and leave nobody else caring. I don't think it's too much to ask that a review offer insight that could potentially change minds. This review will not sell one more copy, nor will it prevent one person from buying it. It does not attempt to offer liberals any insight into why O'Reilly is a cultural phenomenon, nor does it try to convince conservatives that it's all smoke and mirrors. Rather it takes a piece from each side, telling hardcore liberals what they already believe: that the phenomenon is all smoke and mirrors (very, very angry smoke).

Now, I listen to O'Reilly's program on a fairly frequent basis. Despite being a registered democrat and someone who considers himself left of center, I need my palate cleansed from time to time since regular media coverage (let's be honest) tends to skew heavily left. A little righteous indignation (even though sometimes misdirected) is good to get the blood pumping.

Two things I believe about Bill O'Reilly: he is not nearly as dumb as the left thinks he is, but he is every bit as egotistical (perhaps more so). He has an uncanny ability to frame nearly every political and cultural debate within the context of himself (he believes that John McCain would win the presidency if McCain simply went nuclear on financial 'villains' like O'Reilly did to Barney Frank). Sometimes this righteous indignation hits home. He rages against Frank, Christopher Dodd and Chris Cox who spent more time deflecting blame than taking accountability while our economy sunk lower and lower. Sometimes it seems like his show is merely a forum to grind axes. If you write a negative print article about O'Reilly, it's a safe bet that an "O'Reilly Factor" camera crew will show up in your driveway within the week. 

Back to my point. Statements like "Mr. O’Reilly, who either works with a collaborator or was born with a ghostwriter’s gift for filling space with platitudes" are more mean-spirited than critical. And the review devotes more space to criticizing pop culture mistakes in O'Reilly's book than it does covering crime fiction in a month.

This could have been a fascinating article, helping to inform both sides of a political debate by illuminating arguably the most polarizing cable host alive. But it's basically the equivalent of one of Olbermann's self0important "Special Comments": it will have hardcore liberals nodding their heads, hardcore conservatives shaking theirs, and the millions of people closer to the middle wondering what the point of it all is.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 6: Animal Control

Post-Bouchercon thoughts to follow in the next few days. In the meantime, here's a recap and review of this week's episode of "The Shield." Note: I watched the ep on my computer rather than live--darn presidential debate--and this is essentially a running diary.

--So Aceveda wants to turn in the blackmail box. Figures. He knows the longer he waits, the more suspicious it looks when he finally turns it in. And Vic is torn because if they hand it over early, they lose all leverage with both Rezian and Pezuela. Vic looks more distraught than usual here. If he meant his words from last episode--that he wants to bring down Pezuela to atone for all his wrongdoings--than turning over the box is akin to waving bye-bye to any sort of peace. Vic wants to catch Rios redhanded, and get him to give up Pezuela. Aceveda gives Vic a deadline. Does Vic ever get any open-ended assignments? 

--I was totally expecting someone to jump out and accost Tina, shades of her failing to clear the room for Danny (which still hasn't really been addressed). But finding a naked dude covered in blood? Not a bad silver medal. But man, based on those noises he was making I was expecting another alley pleasure seeker. Nice to be wrong.

--A somber note as Vic and Ronnie meet at Lem's grave. This harkens back to the opening scene of Season Six with Vic, Shane and Ronnie meeting at the grave while Johnny Cash's "I Hung My Head" plays in the background (one of my favorites in the series). This scene gave me chills. It's the first time Vic has shown how he's affected by the weight of Lem's death in a while, and he reminds Ronnie they still have a score to settle for Lem's murder (i.e. Shane). Vic tells Ronnie he has a plan to make all the wrong things right, all within Aceveda's deadline. I'm dumbfounded as to how he's going to manage this, considering he not only has Shane, but the Armenian and Mexican mobs to worry about.

--So Vic presents the "plan" to Shane: they're going to sell the Armenians the blackmail box, end their business with Pezuela and shake down the Armenians for some cash. Shane likee, especially the money part. Of course Ronnie and Vic have ulterior motives which will surely come to light. And suddenly Shane's, "I feel like a huge weight has been..." is interrupted by...TAVON GARRIS. Wow. I'd heard Tavon would be coming back, but man what timing. Last we saw Tavon, he was laid out in a hospital bed after flying through a windshield thanks to Shane and Mara (and an iron to the back of the head). Dude is scarred up, and oddly doesn't mention Shane's assault (if we recall, Vic lied and convinced Tavon he attacked Mara, to save Shane's ass). Tavon and Julien have an awkward moment, as the only two black members of the Strike team. Shane looks about as comfortable as George W. Bush at an economic summit.

--So Tavon, out of the the hospital, is now working Hollywood division. Seems one of Shane's former rape suspects, long thought dead, has resurfaced in Tavon's neck of the woods by reaching out to his young daughter (side note: I always liked Tavon's character. It's good to see him again.)

--Tavon apologizes to Shane? Oh, right, while Tavon was laid up Vic convinced him that he assaulted Mara (to save Shane's ass after Mara nearly decapitated Tavon). For whatever reason this missing rapist is a sore spot for Shane, and he tells Vic he might need to jet from the intel sale. Shane seems upset by Tavon's reappearance, as he seems reminded of just how ugly he is (it was Shane's racism and insecurity that led to Tavon nearly getting killed). Somewhere beneath the rot, Shane does have a heart. Kind of like the grinch.

--So Corrine is on drugs (I officially nominate her and Vic for "Worst Parents of the Millenuem"), Vic tells Pezuela a way to take down the whole Armenian mob, and Shane sets up a trap to catch the rapist, Barba. Shane is acting like a...wait...good cop? His words to the daughter, Camille, "Better you deal with trouble now rather than look over your shoulder the rest of your life," is a perfect summation of the Strike Team.

--Turns out Vic's intel sale is actually a ruse to set up a Mexican/Armenian bloodbath, with Shane caught in the crossfire. And it turns out that one of Robert Martin's assassins is the same guy who assaulted Danny in the storeroom. Claudette goes nuclear on Ronnie when he can't give Vic's whereabouts, since he's out learning that Rios and his Mexican assassins are planning to flee the country after tonight's meeting with the Armenians. Vic tells him, "If you put one of them in the ground, make sure you put them all there." Oh man, this is not going to end well.

--Olivia Murray tells Vic that Rios has been flagged for surveillance, and she wants to turn herself in over a guilty conscience. Vic convinces her to hold off, since if she does he loses Pezuela. Olivia's guilt here is striking in comparison to Vic, considering her sins are relatively minor. Yet Vic, Shane and Ronnie have all committed murder and other atrocities and are still trying to pretend they've got good souls.

--Shane catches Barba, and can't bring himself to talk to Tavon about the night he got hurt. This is one of Shane's best episodes ever, great acting by Walton Goggins, as Shane goes from cocky and brash one moment (dealing with the Armenians) to contrite and remorseful (when Tavon reminds him of who he really is). Like the bloody narcoleptic guy Claudette and Dutch grill, Shane knows what he does is wrong, but somehow cannot stop himself.

--Tavon confesses to Shane that he knows he didn't hit Mara. Shane, genuinely overcome with guilt, offers to transfer from the barn once the intel sale is over, to leave Vic and Ronnie for good. When Corrine shows up at the station pleading with Vic not to take the kids away from her over the drugs, he, like Shane, has a crisis of conscience. Is this what people think of him? And is that who he really is? As he and Ronnie lead Shane to (presumably) his death, Vic decides to call the deal off. Vic: "We still have a choice." Ronnie: "Do you think Shane gave Lem a choice?" Vic: "I'm not Shane." Right there, that's the heart of the show. Great moment.

--Vic tries to get a hold of Shane, who's a sitting duck as he waits at the meeting spot. Vic's desperate attempt to get through to Shane while Ronnie tries to run interference to let him die is pretty chilling. Shane goes to check around the perimeter, and meanwhile two Mexican assassins show up and annihilate the entire Armenian mob as Shane escapes to watch from the shadows.

--Turns out naked alley dude didn't kill anyone, but slits his own throat because Dutch and Claudette make him think he did. Ick. Vic shows up at Corrine's, letting her know the family is safe. Of course he doesn't tell her why ("Hey honey, that Armenian mob boss who wanted to kill you because I stole three million dollars from him? Yeah, he's dead because I orchestrated a hit on him by a Mexican gang whose dirty boss I've been taking money from while providing him with intel. And I decided not to kill my former best friend who blew our other friend up with a grenade. Don't you feel better?")

--Dutch has a breakthrough with Billings, telling him he needs Steve to do what Claudette used to, namely challenge him, make him prove his assumptions. Shane arrives home, and it turns out he stole the hundred g's from the blackmail deal. Not only that, but he knows Vic and Ronnie tried to have him killed. "And the worst part is," Shane says, "they think I'm too stupid to even realize it."

Final thoughts: A tense episode throughout. A little heavy-handed at times with all the talk about living down the past, but the acting and story more than made up for it. This episode was one of Walton Goggins's finest hours, as he breathed a hint of humanity back into Shane. And for all of Vic's bluster about finding and killing Lem's killer, when it came down to it he simply couldn't kill Shane. This shows how Vic has changed over the series, since in the first episode he was able to kill Terry Crowley in cold blood, yet couldn't even allow Shane (who's done far worse things than Terry) to take a bullet from a random Mexican assassin. And now Vic is pinned down, in Shane's sights for setting him up, and Ronnie's for trying to halt Shane's murder. I wasn't sure how things were going to play out at first, but now it seems almost certain that Vic is going to go down, and go down hard.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pre-Bouchercon tired thoughts

I'm in my hotel room in Baltimore, Maryland for the 2008 Bouchercon (or as my mom calls it, Boosheron). I've been up since 6:00 am, and have spent about 6.5 hours driving today. This will be my second Boosheron, following last year's trip to Anchorage, Alaska, where some Governor nobody had ever heard of named Sarah Palin welcomed us during the opening ceremonies. My thoughts then? Governor Palin was funny, engaging, and I couldn't help but wonder just how little must be going on in that state for the freaking governor to say hi in person to a bunch of crime writers. I wonder whatever happened to her...

I'll be on two panels this week:

Thursday, 1:30 pm
Jan Brogan
Stephen Booth
Dana Cameron
Jason Pinter
Mark T. Sullivan

Saturday, 3:00 pm
KUNG FU FIGHTING (not to be confused with Kung Fu Panda): Keeping the pace moving without losing your reader
Tim Maleeny
Dan Fesperman
Joseph Finder
Gwen Freeman
Jason Pinter

I'm also up for a Barry award for THE MARK, and will learn my fate tomorrow night at the opening ceremony (Magic 8 Ball says: "Not a snowball's chance in hell"). If you're attending, please stop by one of my panels, or just say hello. If you're feeling frisky, buy one (or two, or three) of my books. Or buy me a beer (or two, or three). I'll need the cash to pay for gas on my return trip.


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Greatest Movie Villains

So I was thinking about "The Dark Knight," and firmly believe that Heath Ledger's Joker is one of the greatest movie villains of all time. So I was wondering who people think are the greatest movie villains ever. Here are a few of my picks:

Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in "Die Hard"
Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan in "Touch of Evil"
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs"
Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett in "Unforgiven"

Who do you think are the greatest movie villains ever?

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Brief V.P. Debate Thoughts

--First off, Gwen Ifill should not have moderated the debate. Even though in the end she came off as a professional, just like sports referees the moderator should never be a focal point of a contest. 

--Palin likely came off far better than everyone expected. She was confident and showed much more mastery of the facts than in her previous interviews. SNL doesn't have a whole lot of material to go on should they parody the debate.

--I hadn't seen much of Joe Biden, and came away thoroughly impressed. In fact I think he came off better in this debate than Obama did in the presidential debate (which I believe McCain won). 

--While Palin exceeded expectations, those expecations were fairly low. And all things being equal, I felt Biden won the debate handily. This is not to say Palin lost the debate--there were no major gaffes as far as I could tell--but I felt Biden was simply superb. He came off as knowledgable, experienced without being out of touch, and human (anyone who didn't get a brief lump in their throat when he talked about his tragic accident simply doesn't have a soul). His reply to Palin's "being a mom" statement where he said "the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone...I understand" was powerful stuff and showed that you don't need to be a hockey mom to know what it's like to raise a family in tough times.

--Things I thought Biden did well: He knew his stuff, and hammered the specifics about McCain's plan, including Health Care which was fairly damning. He wasn't condescending to Palin, and in fact seemed genuinely gracious before and after. He attacked McCain's policies, was strong in his disapproval for the last eight years (his comments about Cheney were eye-opening) and was rarely rebuffed by Palin. He did not make any stupid comments, nor did he go after Palin specifically, a smart move since people do vote for the top of the ticket first.

--Things I felt Biden did poorly: At times it felt like he was more excited about a Biden vice-presidency than an Obama presidency. Got a little too wordy at times, and mumbled a bit which made a few comments hard to distinguish. Sometimes had no response but to smile or look at his dais when Palin critiqued him or Obama, and was hit hard when Palin pointed out where he and Obama differed.

--Things I felt Palin did well: She showed off her folksy charm, but with much more command of the material. She got in a few good digs at the Obama/Biden ticket, and really drew blood when talking about Biden's earlier criticisms of Obama and his refusal to accept a VP nod (which Biden did not respond to). Though her desire for "straight talk" was ironic considering her recent interviews, her critique about Biden being against the war before he was for it was a home run.

--Things I felt Palin did poorly: The folksy stuff got way too cutesy at times, and I couldn't believe she actually winked at the t.v. Winking is not folksy, it's flirtatious. And had a male candidate done that he would have been rightly eviscerated. She seemed to know her stuff, but as opposed to Biden she came off as more well-coached than innately knowledgable. And her "I may not answer the questions that you or the moderator want to hear" is an unnacceptable response. The moderator is a stand-in for the American people, asking the questions we want answered. Evading those questions does not make her come across as a Maverick from outside the Beltway, but made it seem like she was simply avoiding the issues she was less comfortable discussing.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 5: Game Face

We open as Federal Agent Olivia Murray--now exposed as being in Pezuela's pocket--asks the Strike Team to be a part of a rescue operation. Since the team is still alive, it's clear she hasn't told Pezuela they've been playing both sides, so they have to go along. It seems a Cuban drug lord the feds have been tracking is in Farmington to do a deal (where he'll be arrested), but while in town his daughter Noelle was unexpectedly carjacked and kidnapped. Murray needs Vic to rescue her in time for her father to make the meeting. The catch is that the drug lord has his own thugs looking for her, since he doesn't want anything to do with the authorities. So the Strike team has to find the girl without letting daddy know the cops or FBI are on the case. Of course Vic is skeptical, and Aceveda is worried about that and potential blowback from Robert Martin's murder. Vic leaves wondering if he's being set up by Olivia, or if the case is clean and dry like she says. 

On their way to visit a chop shop known for using stolen cars, Shane tries to convince Vic to turn over the blackmail box to Rezian, who would then deliver it to Pezuela, clearing their debts and ending the Mexican/Armenian war. Vic tells him he needs the box to bring down Pezuela, which Shane scoffs at. After years in Farmington, Shane feels like every time one boss is brought down another one pops up. The system is broken, he says, and they need to take care of themselves alone. Vic disagrees. "Pezuela is a down payment on me being able to live with myself."

When they hit the chop shop, the owner speeds away. A chase ensues, and when the team snares him he admits to running because a team of thugs already killed several of his employees. It seems the Cuban guy isn't against making a few bodies to find Noelle, and is following the same leads as Vic. The owner doesn't know anything, so Vic turns to young carjacker Deena (last seen in season 3) who's plugged in. Vic and Ronnie arrive and are greeted by several shotgun blasts from a terrified Deena. It seems daddy's thugs have been there as well, killing Deena's boyfriend. Vic is running out of options, and the deadline is growing closer.

Back at the barn, Claudette learns that her nemesis, serial killer Kleavon Gardner, is defending himself, and wants to depose her before the trial. She agrees, though Dutch is worried her Lupus medication has her off her game. In the deposition, Kleavon corners Claudette by forcing her to admit she was on heavy medication while investigating him, a reminder of the DA Claudette previously exposed, and how it's now come around to bite her. Facing the possibility of Gardner getting off (as well as embarrassing the department) they reluctantly agree to take the death penalty off the table and give Kleavon life in prison. Claudette realizes she's no longer the firebrand detective she once was, but a figurehead who's becoming more of a distraction than she should (as Aceveda and Billings were before her). She decides to bring on Danny to help, just like Dutch was hoping would happen.

Meanwhile a banger beating victim tells Vic that a gang stole the car and kidnapped Noelle, so Vic gets an idea. Since the strike team is three white dudes and Julien and can't pose as gang members, they arrest the bangers who beat up the girl and get them to pose as robbers (with Julien undercover as one of their members). They break into the jackers' warehouse, and let the kidnapped girl "accidentally" escape--right into the passing car of one Danielle Sofer. The real cops then arrive, and the plan goes off without a hitch. And as far as Vic can tell, Olivia was on the level.

Corrine shows up at the barn to tell Vic that Cassidey has been suspended from school for being at a "Pimps and Hos" party, where drugs were involved. Since pictures were posted on the Internet, Vic finds the kid in one of them, braces him, and learns that the whole party was Cassidey's doing--drugs included. Because he sees how far off the rails his daughter is going, and how his parental responsibilities are being challenged, Vic refuses to sign over his rights to Danny's baby.

Dutch brings in an FBI profiler to take a look at Lloyd Dressler, whom Dutch still suspects is a 16-year old serial killer in training. The profiler interviews him, and agrees that something is off about the kid. Then, in a bold move, Dutch convinces Kleavon Gardner to take a look at the kid's interview tapes. Kleavon tells Dutch he's seen the look on Lloyd's face before. Dutch asks, "Where?" Gardner responds, "In the mirror."

Shane finds Ronnie at the barn and, since Ronnie has Vic's ear where Shane does not, hetries to convince him to get Vic to turn over the blackmail box. Shane admits that he knows Ronnie will never forgive him for killing Lem, but that following Vic will likely lead to prison or worse for all three of them. Ronnie goes to Vic, still untrusting of Shane, but sides with Shane and tries to get Vic to hand over the info. Vic refuses, confessing that Aceveda is now in possession of the intel. Ronnie doesn't seem convinced that it will all work out okey-dokey in traditional Mackey style.

Vic confronts Olivia Murray at the end, telling her he knows about her debt to Pezuela. It turns out she made an investigation--in which her brother would have been fingered--go away. Pezuela found out about it, and now he's squeezing her. Olivia says she just wants to figure out how to get out from under him. Vic smiles, saying he knows just the guy for that kind of job.

Another strong episode, but what stands out most is Vic's admission of knowing what a wrong life he's led, and that he must atone for it by bringing down Pezeula. He sees the Cartel as the biggest threat to Farmington yet, and by taking the leader down he just might save his soul. Ever since Ronnie killed Zadofian, he's teetered on the edge of becoming Vic (who does bad things but has a good heart) or Shane (bad to the core). It can be argued that Ronnie has been the most loyal member of the Strike team (he's the only one who seems to still be losing sleep over Lem's death), but now Ronnie sees Vic as unable to control the maelstrom he's started, and wonders if Vic is putting his job over the safety of the team. It's only a matter of time before Ronnie and Vic have it out. Perhaps violently.

The subplot involving Dutch and Lloyd Dressler is pretty good and fits in with the larger picture, since Dutch sees this as a culmination of everything he's ever done. "Who's the better cop?" he asks Billings. "The one who arrests someone who committed thirty murders, or the one who prevented those murders from ever taking place?" Perhaps the most compelling part is that we get the feeling Lloyd is just like Dutch was when he was that age. It remains to be seen, though, whether Lloyd really is a serial killer or if Dutch is simply looking for more recognition for catching a serial killer (a la season 1). 

I don't love the Claudette/Lupus angle, and haven't ever since it was introduced. It seemed to come out of nowhere and be there mainly to elicit sympathy for Claudette. Her disease will obviously play a big role this season, but to me Claudette's most poignant moment came at the realization that she's become just another bureaucrat. She misses being on the street, misses the challenge, and knows her time at the barn might be coming to an end.

There was certainly an abundance of subplots this episode, maybe too many, to the point that neither Pezuela, Rezian, Tina or Cassidey got any screen time. And Julien hasn't had much to do at all, other than take orders from Vic or interrupt the rest of the team while they're talking about nefarious deeds. I don't care too much about Vic and Danny's fight over the baby, and Corrine's sole job seems now to be to show up and whine about Cassidey. But the Cassidey subplot is really going somewhere, since it strikes at the very heart of who Vic is. No matter what he's done he's always looked out for his family and tried to do the right thing by them. He's been a bad cop,which he is resigned to, but now he's finally realizing that he's been a bad father as well. And whereas Vic is constantly threatened by guns, gangs and violence (not to mention Pimps & Hos), losing his daughter is the most painful of all.