Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Combination Plate 9

Several short comments about some books I've recently read and films I've recently watched.

Run Lola Run: a film
German import in English
Live action with cartoonish inserts
Director: Tom Tykwer
Lola: Franka Potente

I hadn't heard of the film and I'm not even sure why I rented it, but it was a wonderful accidental discovery. It's mostly live action, but cartoon imagery is used very effectively sporadically throughout the film. It adds a lighthearted touch to the goings on in the film and reminds the viewer that this really is not for real.

The plot is simple: Lola's klutz of a boyfriend is trying to break in with the mob. As a test, he is given 100,000 marks to transport from Point A to Point B. He loses the money and calls Lola to tell her the sad news. I guess Lola's feelings for him demonstrate the old adage: love is blind (possibly not too bright either). As he sees it, his choices are limited: rob a grocery store or get terminated by the mob if he doesn't hand 100,000 marks over to his contact in about 20 minutes. Lola tells him to wait, for she's going to see if she can raise the money in that 20 minutes.

Now, Lola begins to run. As she runs, we get brief glimpses of the future lives of the people she runs into, some literally. Rather than spoil the plot, I'll stop here. The film does not end when Lola finally reaches her boyfriend some 20 minutes later, for the film is a fantasy that gives us the opportunity that we never get in real life: if we could only do it again, how different it would be. In fact, Lola gets three chances to do it. Each trial is different in some ways, with the effects on the others she encounters differing each time, and also producing changes later which result in a different conclusion each time.

Overall Rating: very high. I've seen it twice and will probably see it again.


Mari Jungstedt: The Inner Circle, a novel
Mystery: Police Procedural
Protagonist: Inspector Anders Knutas
Setting: the Island of Gotland, just off the Swedish coast

This is appears to be the third novel in the series set on Gotland with Inspector Knutas. In this novel, a young archeology student on a dig in a Viking settlement has been murdered. Does this have anything to do with the decapitated horse found several days ago? Moreover, there seemed to be a suspicious lack of blood where the horse was found. It seems clear that there is a ritual element to this murder--a human sacrifice? As the body count increases, the tension rises, among the police who have no clues to go on and among the archeology students who are at the dig and also among the general populace.

It's a well-told story with a intriguing plot. The denouement is satisfying and fair--no last minute twin or sudden insertion of a character in a late chapter or a flash of insight that leaves the reader wondering where that came from. It's a good smooth translation also.

My only quibble is a personal quirk: mysteries should focus on the mystery. This one, well--to quote the back cover comment from the Svenska Dagbladet, "she succeeds in combining a fascination with macabre acts of violent crime with a focus on relationship drama..."

That's my problem--the "relationship drama" has little to do with the plot, except that it involves the secondary POV character Johan, a reporter who decides he will investigate the crime himself. As part of the "relationship drama," the reader is suddenly blessed with a chapter or two with Emma, the reporter's love interest, in the birthing room as she gives birth to their child, and then on the effect this has on their relationship.

Overall Rating: good--I would especially recommend it for those interested in reading crime fiction from other countries.


Javier Sierra
The Secret Supper
Historical mystery: set late 15th century Italy
Focus: Leonardo da Vinci and The Last Supper

What secret code, if any, did da Vinci incorporate in his painting, The Last Supper? This novel is bound to draw comparisons with the more famous one by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code. However, this one is better, by far.

Agostino Leyre is a monk in the Order of Saint Bethany (OSB?), a super secret group buried within the Dominicans. The Order was "set up to examine government matters that might allow the Holy Father to foretell the movements of his many enemies. Any scrap of news, however minuscule, that might affect the status quo of the Church would immediately pass into our hands, where it would weighed and transmitted to the pertinent authority. That was our sole mission."

The Vatican has received several anonymous letters warning them of da Vinci's intention to insert heretical symbols in The Last Supper. Leyre is sent to Milan to investigate the claims and also to identify the sender of the anonymous letters. Then, the murders begin, and the hunt is on.

The usual suspects are present: The Last Supper, da Vinci, Mary Magdalene, St. John, the Cathars, the Gnostics, and Church/State politics. I don't remember the Templars making it into this one, though.

Overall Rating: good--nice depiction of the historical setting, interesting code set up for the interpretation of the painting, and characters that are a bit more than two-dimensional.


Nine Queens: a film
Argentina, subtitles
a caper film

Two con men, the old wise experienced Marcos and the young inexperienced Juan, stumble into a swindle involving the Nine Queens, a sheet of rare and incredibly expensive stamps. Their target is a rich businessman whose hobby is stamps. However, he has to leave the country the next day, so he won't be able to give the stamps the thorough testing he normally would. That's the con men's advantage, for the stamps are forgeries, good ones, but they won't stand up to thorough testing.

The film follows the two as they desperately attempt to put their scam across. At each turn, there's a new and unexpected hurdle, each one threatening disaster for their plan. The fun is, of course, watching them struggle with each new potential catastrophe.

Overall Rating: good, a enjoyable couple of hours, with the usual twists and turns and crosses and double-crosses and triple-crosses that one would expect. One might wonder if there really
is honor among thieves. Nine Queens makes me reflect on what other gems might be awaiting discovery down there.


The Producers
A Mel Brooks film

This is one of my favorite goofy movies of all time. Zero Mostel is a producer who has hit bottom. His most recent plays have all been flops. Gene Wilder plays the naive, innocent accountant whose consciousness is raised by the wily and unscrupulous Mostel.

After doing Mostel's books for his latest flop, Wilder discovers that several thousand dollars are still in the account. But, since the show was a flop, everyone assumes all the money is gone. Mostel sees the golden opportunity and persuades Wilder to go along. They will select a play that is a surefire loser, raise money from backers, spend as little as possible, and close out the books when it flops. Overall, they manage to sell several thousand percent of the proceeds to various backers, mostly little old ladies charmed by Mostel.

Their choice for flop of the year: Springtime for Hitler, written by a Nazi who attempts in his play to present the "real" Adolf Hitler, not the evil one portrayed by Allied propagandists. This, they are convinced, absolutely can not fail to fail.

They select a director and cast that hasn't enough talent to be even second-rate. Dick Shawn is a brain-damaged old hippie who is selected to play Hitler. I think his portrayal of Hitler can best be described as surreal.

One of the great scenes in the movie is that of the audience who are open-mouthed in shock as the play opens with the first song:

"Springtime for Hitler and Germany,
Winter for Poland and France.
Bombs falling from the skies again,
Deutschland is on the rise again."

Sheer lunacy. Warning: it's a catchy tune, so you might find yourself humming it days later.

Overall Rating: Great. If you haven't seen it yet, then go rent it somewhere. If you have seen it, then perhaps it's time to see it again.


  1. Thanks for the reviews. I'm adding The Inner Circle to my list for future reading.

  2. R. T.,

    It's a good one. Aside from my personal little quirk there, it's an intriguing plot with interesting characters.

    I'll probably give her a second look some time.

  3. I just watched Run Lola Run. I really liked it. For those who are able, you can watch it for free on YouTube if you search under "Lola Rennt Part 1".
    ( It's in 8 parts.) I loved the scene in her second "run" where she leaves her father's bank and sees policemen. Great comic relief. I thought the title seemed familiar and then I remembered that it was mentioned on the Discovery Channel show "Myth Busters". They were doing a movie myths show, to see if certain scenes in movies could actually occur in real life. They were trying to see if a human voice could actually shatter glass. From what I remember, it can actually happen. They had to use a trained singer at a certain pitch/frequency to do it, and the glass was placed right in front of his mouth. As for the casino scene, maybe you could go on the Myth Buster website and suggest that they test that one? ;)

  4. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the information about YouTube.

    I remember a commercial from many decades ago for Memorex? tape. It showed a soprano hitting a high note and the wine glass shattering. Then a repeat and the glass shattering again. The point was that her taped voice could break a glass, just as her voice live could. The tag line was "Is it live or is it Memorex?"

    I don't remember much, but it was a very high note, I think, and I don't believe the glass was near the singer.

    The full version of _Run Lola Run_ is available on Netflix.