Monday, January 26, 2009

Combination Plate: Books and Films


Batya Gur (1947-2005): The Saturday Morning Murder, the first in her short series (six novels) of police procedurals set in Jerusalem, featuring Chief Inspector Michael Ohayon of the Jerusalem police force. I was hooked by the first novel and got all that followed, without even bothering to skim through them.

Her strong points are

1. the interesting characters who populate her works, from the police squad members to the suspects, including of course the various victims;

2. the specific environment for each crime, which ranged from a psychiatric training institute (The Saturday Morning Murder) to an university literature department ( A Literary Murder) to a kibbutz (Murder on a Kibbutz);

and the locale, Jerusalem and the Middle East, which poses special problems for the police who attempt to do their job in a country that seems to be permanently on a war-time status.

This "Psychoanalytic Case" bears on the murder of a senior member of a psychiatric training institute who is revered, almost worshipped by her colleagues and student. She was found in the institute hours before she was to give a lecture on ethical problems encountered in analytic treatment. No copies of the lecture can be found, nor can any notes be located. Is there a connection between her murder and the nature of the lecture?

Overall Rating: A+


C. J. Cherryh: Foreigner. A starship encounters navigational problems. Lost, various members of the human crew are forced to settle on a planet that already has a sentient population, the atevi. The humans, although technologically superior, are outnumbered and must enter into a precarious working relationship with one of the associations of the atevi.

The treaty gives the humans the right to occupy an island without interference from the atevi. In return, the humans will gradually turn over to the atevi their technology and scientific knowledge. All humans are required to remain on the island, except for one who will live with the atevi and function as a paidhi or mediator/interpreter between the atevi and the humans.

The paidhi's task is to explain the atevi to the humans and the humans to the atevi. Among numerous differences between the two races is the inability of the atevi to understand the human concept of liking or regard for another individual and also the importance humans place on boundaries. The atevi have no word to express love and have 14 words to express the concept of betrayal The atevi are motivated primarily through individual loyalties, almost feudal
in nature.

Moreover, assassination is an accepted and legal course of action in atevi society, as long as one files a permit and registers with the appropriate governmental agency one's intent to assassinate a specific individual. The story begins with an assassination attempt directed against Bren, the present paidhi.

The novel is action-oriented, but at the same time we spend much time inside Bren's head as he attempts to work his way through the labyrinth of the atevi society.

Overall Rating: A



The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964): this film is based on the novel by Charles G. Finney, The Circus of Dr. Lao. I haven't read the story, so I can't comment on the faithfulness of the film to the novel.

Briefly, Dr. Lao is a Chinese magician and brings a circus to this small western town, probably late 19th or early 20th century, from the look of the few autos present. The circus has six attractions, all of whom are played by Tony Randall, who also plays Dr. Lao. The film was nominated for an Oscar for special effects, and William Tuttle was given an honorary award for his work on Tony Randall's makeup.

There is a villain, of course, and a romance, naturally, which involves a properly reluctant widow and the crusading editor of the town's newspaper. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lao (and the other six circus attractions), all ends well. The film's strong point is Tony Randall's efforts at portraying, among others, the Abominable Snowman, two magicians (both Dr. Lao and Merlin), a fortune teller, and Pan.

Overall Rating: B, lots of fun, definitely a feelgood film.

Lethal Weapon IV: this is the fourth in the series starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. I thought the first film was excellent, primarily because of the buddy relationship between the characters played by Gibson and Glover. But, as happens so frequently, the sequels proved to be less interesting as the numbers increase.

I couldn't finish this one as those inconsequential elements--plot, interesting characters, and dialogue--were ignored or downplayed in order to get more chase scenes, explosions, gun battles, and fights on the screen.

Overall Rating: D


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (aka Indiana Jones IV) I did manage to finish this one. However, my reaction to this was similar to my response to Lethal Weapon IV,
all action and minimal plot, etc.

Overall Rating: C-

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