Tag Archives: Thriller

Nighttime Is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark – suffers from too many flaws

Nighttime Is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark

 

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(2/5)


Pros: Started with a reasonable premise

Cons: but suffers from too many flaws

I usually enjoy Mary Higgins Clark’s books, even if they’re not examples of great writing. Normally they are at very least entertaining thrillers.  But Nighttime Is My Time failed to hold my interest.  By the end, I barely cared “who done it”.


The setting was intriguing enough – a 20-year class reunion. A weekend gathering of old classmates.  Some friends, some enemies, everyone bringing their own past demons.  There a small group of people with a shared past experience.  All were unhappy during their childhood.  For various reasons.  Some were “outsiders”, picked on by the other students.  Others had issues at home.  In any case, here it is, 20 years later.  You’d think they’d all be over it by now – risen above their past issues.  But one person is definitely NOT over it.  One person is out for revenge – making his classmates pay for past transgressions.

We get plenty of chapters from the bad guy’s point of view. Thus we understand his motivations, know what he’s up to, and we even learn that he’s committed some atrocious acts of revenge in the past.  Further, we know that he is one of the reunion attendees.  We just don’t know – until the end – which one he is.

That’s the premise, and it wasn’t a bad one. We’ve all known kids who were unhappy for one reason or another.  We knew who the “outsiders” were.  Perhaps we were the outsiders.  So it’s fun to imagine the “outsider” growing up and seeking revenge against those who hurt him in the past.


However, Nighttime Is My Time takes the concept way too far.  It was unrealistic to think that someone would go to the extremes we see in this book.  The ends did not justify the means – not even when viewed through the forgiving lens of a thriller.  In other words, it goes way beyond the pale – making the entire story ho-hum in my opinion.

Further hurting the story was the sheer unlikeability of nearly all of the characters. And believe me, there’s a huge list of characters for us to dislike.  Pretty much all of the reunion-goers.  And a few of the others.  Including an obnoxious kid who fancies himself a photo-journalist.  For the most part, he’s just a pain in the neck butting into everybody’s business.

Then there’s the rampant stupidity. Or, as I call it, the eye-rolling factor.  When you know that you’re in danger, do you take off, by yourself, just because someone calls you and tells you do so?  Or, do you arrange for backup, or at least let someone know where you plan to be and when you plan to be back.


Secondly, when you know you were duped once before by someone pretending to be someone else on the phone, do you fall for it again?  And again?

Lastly, we have our bad guy. He’s pretty clever. His crimes have been pretty much perfect over the years.  No one has ever considered him a suspect in anything.  Yet he feels the need to leave a single clue at every one of his crime scenes.  How those clues didn’t tie back to him in the past is a matter of sheer luck on his part (not to mention incompetence on the part of the authorities).  Yet, he continues this behavior, even knowing that it’s likely to get him in trouble, at some point.

So, as you can tell, I’m not overly fond of Nighttime Is My Time.  Mary Higgins Clark can do better – much better.


 

 

Also by Mary Higgins Clark:

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting

Daddy’s Little Girl

In The Dark Of The Night – John Saul – Flawed, but intriguing

In The Dark Of The Night by John Saul

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(2/5)

Pros: Engaging story…

Cons: … with unrealistic elements and ridiculous character flaws

In The Dark Of The Night by John Saul is a decent thriller, if you can handle a story that falls into the realms of “horror” and “paranormal”.  This is not normally my preference.  I prefer my thrillers to be set in realistic terms – something that could happen, thus making it ever more scary.  But when stories rely on items of “other-worldly” origins, the story becomes far less real, and, in my opinion, far less enjoyable.  Granted, this is something that Saul is known for, but in this book it seemed more prevalent than usual.

However, In The Dark Of The Night isn’t terrible, in fact, I enjoyed it.  Just know what you’re getting into.

It should be an idyllic summer… Renting a house by a lake…  Sixteen-year-old Eric is ecstatic – he’s been looking forward to this for so long.  Despite the misgivings of his worry-wort Mom – one of those people who can only see the bad in any situation – Eric can’t wait to start his dream-summer!

But when Eric and his friends discover a cache of long-abandoned items in a shed on the rented property, things start to go awry. The items, themselves, look innocuous enough.  A table with three legs, and a table leg by itself.  A hacksaw with no blade, and a blade by itself.  A lamp with no shade, and a shade by itself…  But Eric and his friends feel a compulsion they can’t explain – a need to put the items back together again.  But doing so seem to unleash an energy – a fury that gets stronger and stronger until its full release.

The book tries to tie together events from seven years ago – hinted at, in the prologue – with the events in the current time. But I don’t think it accomplishes this goal too well.  There are quite a few holes that never get filled.

There’s also a subplot – the “townies” versus the “summer tourists”.   A bunch of rotten kids with nothing better to do than to cause mayhem for no good reason at all.  It was trite, added nothing to the main story, and made me feel like I was reading a book from the YA section.

Then there’s Eric’s Mom. I get that Saul decided to paint her as a worry-wort.  But he took her “quirks” to a ridiculous level.  The funniest part was when the family experiences a flat tire, in the rain, on the way up to the lake.  First she decides this is a sign that they should cancel the whole trip.  Then, after her family shuts that notion down, she doesn’t want her husband to change the tire in the rain because “he might drown”.  Oy.  C’mon, Mr. Saul, if you want to give us “quirky” don’t make it ridiculous.

But even with all of its flaws, I still found In The Dark Of The Night to be a compelling read.  I was interested to figure out exactly what was going on, and how it would all end.  And even though it went to extremes I don’t prefer, I still flipped those pages pretty quickly, engaged in the story.  Finally, there’s an epilogue that I really enjoyed.

My recommendation: read it, if you like thrillers, and can handle the unrealistic aspects, and a few flaws.

It’s Just an Illusion…F/X

F/X

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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Consistently enjoyable, with a nice sense of pace, brisk editing, and plenty of surprises

Cons: Nothing major

In the middle of a pouring rainstorm, a man wearing a trench coat forces his way into a crowded, extremely posh restaurant. He spots a well-dressed woman sitting in the back of the hall, enjoying a meal with a male companion who seems to be enjoying her company more than the food itself. Without warning, the guy in the trench coat opens fire with a machine gun, blasting away diners and shattering huge aquariums along the walls, thus spilling all sorts of exotic fish and lobster across the marble floor. He turns towards the woman, his wife, and she begs for her life. His finger tenses on the trigger and she’s pushed back through a service corridor by the force of lead hitting her body. Suddenly the director yells cut.


Rutrow – What’s real and what’s the effect?

This opening scene of the 1986 action flick F/X (also known under the perhaps more accurate title Murder by Illusion) serves to point out to the viewer that not much of anything can be taken at face value in a film that deals with a special effects artist (or illusionist if you like) who’s recruited by the Justice Department to fake the death of a prominent mob informant named Nicholas DeFranco. Agreeing to take the job, FX man Rollie Tyler devises various gimmicks to make it look like DeFranco is gunned down in a crowded restaurant, but immediately after the “fake” hit takes place, he finds out something is not at all right. Not only are the police convinced DeFranco died for real, but the feds are now trying to eliminate Tyler as well. While Tyler attempts to get to the bottom of the conspiracy he’s become involved with in an attempt to clear his name after his girlfriend is killed by government assassins, a hard-nosed police officer named Leo McCarthy (who hauled in DeFranco the first time around) is performing his own investigation into the matter, convinced there’s something suspicious about the feds who were overseeing DeFranco’s safety. As might be expected, all of these subplots collide in the end, but not before some serious twists and turns pop up along the way.

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There’s just something about NYC in the ’80s that makes any movie filmed there more special…

Even if its unlikely anyone would convince F/X with brilliant film making, there’s no denying that this film is, quite simply, highly entertaining and enjoyable. Capturing New York City in the all its 1980s glory and directed by Robert Mandel, who at the time was known for his theatrical direction, the film as a whole seems very workmanlike, but in a modern era where far too many directors go overboard with flashy visuals in an attempt to prove and showcase their “vision” (or to appeal to the ADHD generation), this almost seems like a revelation. Mandel’s straight-forward direction harkens back to the slick execution of action films like The French Connection that were noted for their sense of realism and matter-of-fact presentation. There aren’t all sorts of loud and obnoxious camera moves here; cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek just seems to have photographed the action in as competent a manner as possible. In the end, this allowed the director and editor Terry Rawlings to construct tight action sequences that really energize the film. No, F/X doesn’t come close to rivaling any of the Rambo, Chuck Norris, or Schwarzenegger films as being quintessential (literally overblown) mid-‘80s action cinema, but that doesn’t at all mean that it’s not extremely pleasing in its own way.

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The film offers a peak behind the scenes at how movie special effects are made, which would have been interesting stuff in 1986.

Though I could say that the script by Gregory Fleeman and Robert T. Megginson (which plays like a mash-up of the whodunnit, police procedural, and slam-bang-boom genres) stretches credibility or believability at times, for the most part it come across as being not only compellingly quirky, but also fairly realistic and at least plausible. If nothing else, Fleeman and Megginson pepper the picture with a little bit of everything an action movie fan could want: we get a pedestrian chase in Central Park, an exciting and well-executed vehicular pursuit through crowded neighborhood streets, fistfights, gun battles, and even some stealthy spy movie action. Since the script largely deals with the efforts of a movie effects artist to trick his pursuers, we not only get a peak behind the curtain of how cinematic special effects are done, but also get some rather clever sequences making use of various props and gimmicks, particularly towards the end of the film. All the while the action is playing out, the script also unfolds its mystery in an intriguing manner. Despite the fact that I was able to predict some elements of the story, it does unleash a couple legitimate surprises once it gets going and I think most viewers would be sucked into the ongoing plot.

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Bryan Brown as Tyler, taking matters into his own hands.

Bryan Brown appears in the film as Tyler, a smart-Alec with a mischievous streak that I’d expect a movie special effects man to have. I wasn’t completely convinced by Brown’s acting during the more dramatic scenes here, but his generally effective portrayal ensures that this guy is an improvement from the typically cardboard ‘80s action movie hero. Diane Verona is appealing in a smaller role playing Tyler’s ambitious actress girlfriend, while Cliff DeYoung (as the hotshot younger agent) and Mason Adams (playing the stuffy and shady chief) play the villainous government agents who recruit Tyler into the plot in the first place. I could almost say these two obvious bad guys weren’t quite interesting enough to carry the film on their own, but Jerry Orbach (playing the mob informant) is genuinely fun to watch playing the stereotype of a sleazy Mafia boss. By far the best acting in the film from my standpoint was provided by Brian Dennehy as the grizzled detective McCarthy. Dennehy only shows up around the halfway point of the film, but makes up for lost time by stomping like a madman through all of his scenes through the rest of the picture. His character really isn’t all that different from hundreds of other movie cops that have turned up in cinema over the years, but Dennehy attacks the role with intensity.

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Look at that ‘stash! You just get the sense that Brian Dennehy as McCarthy ain’t gonna take no b.s. from anybody.

Building to a satisfying finale that’s not what I might have expected, it’s rather unfortunate that F/X isn’t remembered in the same way of other louder (and more stupid) ‘80s action flicks. This film probably won’t blow anyone away, and perhaps the comparatively low-key way in which it was constructed has made it seem “boring” when compared to its contemporaries. It’s also quite possible that a movie dealing with this subject matter doesn’t hold up today when you consider that most of the effects work Tyler was doing would be rendered by computers nowadays. Still, this imaginative film is downright entertaining for what it is and is probably among the best of the modestly-budgeted B-movies of its era – a definite step up from the sorts of things Canon Pictures was releasing at the time. F/X might not be something I’d specifically hunt down, but it’s well worth checking out if you get a chance.

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Available in a standalone, widescreen DVD from MGM or as a . Neither package offers any special features to speak of.


4/10 : Occasional bloody gun violence and a few fight scenes. Nothing especially gory.


6/10 : A couple handfuls of f-bombs and a few other profanities.


2/10 : Mostly implied sexual encounters and Diane Venora prancing about in a neglige


7/10 : A fun movie through and through, even if it’s not something I’d typically identify as being a cult film.


“Nobody cares about making movies about people anymore. All they care about is special effects…..”

Quintessential 1980s trailer:

Catch Me by Lisa Gardner – caught me.

Catch Me by Lisa Gardner

 

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(5/5)

Pros: Very interesting thriller with a few nice twists

Cons: None for me

A very interesting thriller with some decent twists. Way to go, Lisa Gardner!

Catch Me started out a bit ho-hum; I thought I was in for a fairly predictable ride.  But it zigged when I was expecting a zag, and pulled off some genuine intrigue.

You really have to feel bad for Charlene Grant. She believes she is going to die.  She knows the exact date and time, and there’s only a few days left.  What has led her to this conclusion?  Her two best friends were both murdered – same day and time, one year apart.  Now it’s year number three, and it’s logical to believe that she’s next.  She’s pretty convinced this is going to happen, but she’s not going to take it lying down.  She’s doing everything she possibly can to protect herself. But her friends’ murders have never been solved; their crimes are pretty darned perfect.  Charlene is very afraid.

Detective D.D. Warren is on the case. Well, it’s not really a case.  Not yet, anyway.  But D.D. is intrigued by Charlene’s story and wants to do whatever she can to help her.  The problem… D.D. isn’t certain Charlene’s story is 100% accurate.  A few things about it just don’t ring true.  Is Charlene really the next victim just biding her time?  Or is something far more sinister going on?

For those unfamiliar, D.D. Warren is a Boston police detective. She’s definitely someone you want on your side, if you ever need help.  In this book, the 6th in the series, D.D. is a new mom, juggling this new stage in her life, with her extremely demanding job.

I liked Catch Me.  It definitely held my interest.  Without giving anything away, let me just say that it has a mixture of several elements that make thrillers exciting.  And quite a few surprises.  Even when I thought I had it all figured out, I was wrong.

It has characters that are easy to like, and who are drawn with a great combination of sainthood and flaw. D.D. is mostly likeable but she’s certainly not perfect. She grows throughout the series, and now she gets to add “motherhood” to her impressive resume.  In Catch Me we get a glimpse of her parents, which helps us to understand some of her personality quirks.

Of course Charlene is a one-book character, but she, too, is drawn quite well, with a fascinating mixture of personality traits. Through an intense prologue, as well as insight into her nightmares, we get to understand her past as well as her present.  We come to understand why she does the things she does.  And, of course, we root for her, hoping her murderous destiny does not pan out.

Overall, Catch Me caught me.  Give it a try if you’re a thriller-holic, like me.

Also by Lisa Gardner:

Fear Nothing

“…But Would You Change Places With the Tiger?” THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

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(4.5/5)

Pros: Leslie Banks is scary; film and script are extremely taut

Cons: A few downright goofy moments: the shark attack – “It got me!”

The first screen adaptation of Richard Connell’s 1924 short story of the same name (which served as the inspiration for almost innumerable works over the years including the very obscure 1959 Bloodlust as well as the infamous Japanese film Battle Royale and the recent Hunger Games novels and movies), 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game deals with a group of shipwreck victims trapped on a remote jungle island with a deranged big-game hunter named Count Zaroff. Zaroff has become increasingly bored with hunting “normal” animals of the jungle and has found a way to “up the ante” in his hunting – by pursuing human prey. Manipulation of local shipping routes (i.e. sending nearby ships careening into the rocks surrounding his isolated retreat) has provided Zaroff with a constant supply of victims to participate in his “hunts,” though he may be in over his head since the newest castaway named Bob Rainsford is a professional hunter himself. After discovering Zaroff’s hidden “trophy room” that’s filled with mounted human heads, Rainsford and a female shipwreck victim named Eve find themselves in the cross hairs of Zaroff’s high-powered rifle as they attempt to survive the Count’s pursuit – will Rainsford himself wind up as a hunter’s trophy?

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Fay Wray and Joel McCrea as Eve and Rainsford, up against a madman.

Produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack one year before the duo struck gold with the classic, original screen version of King Kong, The Most Dangerous Game incorporates many of the same elements. Many scenes here take place in a rather elaborate jungle set – perhaps the same one used in the Kong film since it has similar landmarks including a log bridge, steep dropoffs, and thick vegetation. The outdoor set also includes a fog-shrouded, eerie swamp replete with alligators and lots of mud and a raging waterfall: I’d have to give the art department credit for making all these locations seem genuinely convincing. Perhaps the more impressive set in the film however is the marvelous interior of the Zaroff mansion, which includes a grandiose vestibule that’s adorned with a particularly interesting mural on the wall showing a centaur running off with a fetching young woman. Also noteworthy is the intricate knocker on the mansion’s door which, when it’s first seen in the opening shot, gives an audience some idea of what to expect in the film.

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Check out that painting in the background – just one of many magnificent contributions from the art department.

James Ashmore Creelman wrote the script and has done a magnificent job of retaining the ghastly and sinister nature of the original Connell short story while fleshing it out a bit for the screen. Additionally, co-directors Schoedsack and Irving Pichel ensure that this film clips along at a furious pace (it runs just 63 minutes) and has minimal downtime. The basic story is established most efficiently and from there, it becomes a true thrill ride of a picture even if it’s entirely predictable and has a few blatantly goofy moments (the whole opening shipwreck sequence is amusingly awful). The film really starts to build momentum around the time when Rainsford and Eve set off into the jungle and maintains a sense of tension right up until the finale. A few genuinely creepy moments pop up from time to time as well, including one in which the two protagonists stumble into Zaroff’s “trophy room” for the first time. I also liked that the various Cossack servants that Zaroff employs in his estate seem positively diabolical – the types of servants one would find lurking around in any number of Universal’s classic fright films.

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“Smile Ivan!” One of the menacing Cossack servants around Zaroff’s estate.

In front of the camera, The Most Dangerous Game features two of the players who would appear alongside King Kong the following year: Fay Wray as the plucky Eve gets a chance to build up her lung capacity in a few extended screaming sessions prior to screeching throughout the whole of the Kong film, and squeaky-voice Robert Armstrong (who plays Carl Denham in Kong) stars as Eve’s brother Martin. Armstrong actually is quite funny to watch in this film: the prototypical drunken buffoon who makes an ass of himself before Zaroff, tired of his shenanigans, invites him into the trophy room…Meanwhile, Joel McCrea as Rainsford is the typical, upstanding adventure film leading man and hero, initiating an obligatory, but mostly unspoken romance with Eve. These cast members generally get the job done in relating their parts, but aren’t anything truly special to watch.

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This scene could have been lifted right out of Cooper and Schoedsack’s later King Kong.

By far the most interesting performance in the film is turned in by British actor Leslie Banks as Zaroff. Banks positively embodies evil in the film, barking orders in Russian to his servants, glaring maniacally at his “guests” (and intended victims), and is frequently lit from underneath in a way that makes him resemble the devil himself. Gotta love the scenes where, when contemplating his nefarious plot, Zaroff starts stroking a prominent scar on his face that was acquired “while hunting buffalo,” a brilliantly unnerving character detail that only makes him seem more devious – especially when paired with Banks’ unhinged line delivery and gleefully malicious dialogue. Though I’m not sure I could make a firm argument that this film is an obvious horror picture, Banks’ Zaroff is about as scary a horror movie villain as would have existed in 1932.

Leslie Banks
Because that’s not creepy at all.

Max Steiner’s ominous and menacing music establishes a macabre mood early on, and becomes most suspenseful later on in the picture, while Henry W. Girrard’s wonderful black and white photography features some really nice set-ups and individual shots. I especially marveled at the concluding sequence filmed out a window in the Zaroff estate and one in which the camera rushes through the jungle as if representing the view of the victims being hunted. All in all, I could scarcely come up with a more effective or more assured screen adaptation of Connell’s original story: 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game is quite simply concise and captivating, an expertly crafted piece that probably would have been rather alarming and disturbing at the time in which it was made. The story has lost some “oomph” over the years (mostly due to the fact that this concept has been used time and again in a string of high-profile projects), but despite the fact that modern audiences might not be impressed by this film (“it’s in black and white!”), I’d have to call it a near masterpiece – the definitive screen version of a classic tale.

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Available in a number of different DVD versions, including a colorized edition as well as a Criterion Collection disc. The film can also be viewed in its entirety .


4/10 : Scenes of severed heads floating in jars, but this film is more distressing for what is implied than for what is shown.


1/10 : Disturbing subject matter, but no profanity


1/10 : Since this was a Pre-Code film, Fay Wray is allowed to run through the jungle in just a nightie – fairly risque for the time, but nothing compared to what would be seen today.


6/10 : A classic short story adapted precisely for the screen; this would likely appeal to those who enjoy the old-time horror classics.


Zaroff gets the best lines, describing his “game” as “outdoor chess – his brains against mine,” and then declaring his superiority to his victims: “Surely you don’t think anyone who has hunted leopards will follow you into that ambush? Oh very well: if you choose to be the leopard, I shall hunt you like the leopard…”

Watch this Classic!

All-Star Cast Can’t Overcome Ho-Hum Script: THE SPLIT

THE SPLIT

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(3/5)

Pros: All-star cast; music score; gets good around the two-thirds mark

Cons: First half or so of the film is pretty standard stuff

For about two-thirds of its running time, 1968’s The Split exists as a pretty typical heist film dealing with the efforts of a six-person misfit crew to steal the box office and concession receipts from an NFL playoff game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Just when a viewer is about ready to write the film off as being a sub-par heist flick however, writer Robert Sabaroff (working from a novel by Donald E. Westlake, whose work also inspired the previous year’s outstanding ) finally injects some life into the scenario by complicating the situation for the slick criminal named McClain who masterminded the robbery. After making off with some five and a half thousand dollars in the job, the money (which is to be split among the participants – a take of roughly $85,000 a piece) disappears and McClain’s ex-wife (who was hiding the cash) is killed. Now, as the crooks bicker and argue about which one of them has the loot, the police chief in charge of the investigation may actually be the one with an ace up his sleeve.


After the robbery itself turns out to be easier than expected, the real problems start…

In many ways, The Split seems like a precursor to the blaxploitation films that would become box office gold in the early ‘70s. The film’s main protagonist McClain (played by NFL legend Jim Brown) is exactly the type of no-nonsense African-American hero that featured in most every film of that genre, even if The Split isn’t anywhere near as gritty, violent, or obviously sexual as the typical ‘70s blaxploitation film of the Superfly, Shaft, or Black Caesar variety. There are a handful of racially charged moments to be found in Sabaroff’s script – the rest of McClain’s crew is a bunch of middle-aged white guys, none of which seem all too excited to be recruited into this gig by a black man – and a smattering of off-color remarks made during the picture. Still, it’s interesting to note that Brown’s character stands as the most respectable guy in the film – sure, he’s a crook who just pulled off a major robbery, but McClain seems to have a conscience (which leads to an ambiguous and somewhat strange final scene) and operates by some sort of a moral code. That’s more than I can say about some of the other (white) folks in this story.

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What a cast!

Probably the best aspect of this film is the dazzling all-star cast assembled for the film. To an extent, The Split benefits from being made relatively early on in the career of actors who would later become big stars, but there’s simply no denying the pleasure that comes from watching Ernest Borgnine (as the hired muscle), Donald Sutherland (as the gunman), Jack Klugman (the driver), Julie Harris (the money behind the operation) and the great Warren Oates (as the safecracker) playing the various criminals in Brown’s outfit. Most of these characters get a defining moment or two to show off the acting chops of the performers playing them, though I don’t think that the script quite has enough to offer actors of this caliber – more often than not, the cast just goes through the motions. In smaller roles, we have Diahann Carroll as McClain’s “foxy” ex, James Whitmore doing a nice job playing against type as Carroll’s sleazeball landlord, and Gene Hackman as the detective who is handling the ongoing investigation. All these characters play a key role in how the film plays out, even if they’re in the picture for a relatively brief amount of time.

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McClain and ex-wife Elli celebrating the score.

Scottish-born director Gordon Flemyng was at the helm for The Split, and though he does an acceptable job, it was pretty obvious to me that Flemyng specialized in television. There’s a feeling throughout The Split that suggests Flemyng was simply uncomfortable with handling large-scale action sequences. Everything here has a microscopic feel to it which takes away from the sense of tension throughout much of the film. This is especially true during the rather lengthy robbery scene itself; though one would hope that this would have been the most exciting sequence of the film, it actually seems somewhat dull if anything. As much as Sobaloff’s script isn’t ideal to begin with, Flemyng’s handling of it occasionally seems corny – witness the supposedly romantic montage included to suggest the rekindling of the relationship between McClain and his ex-wife which is cheesy beyond belief.

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“Paranoia, paranoia; everybody’s coming to get me…”

All that said, The Split does have a few memorable moments and noteworthy sequences while offering up the usual assortment of action scenes including a couple of shootouts (one rather nifty scene playing out in a hall of mirrors), a car chase between a speeding limo and a sports car, and a few fight scenes. Especially cool is a scene in which McClain is assaulted in an absolutely immaculate sauna – the juxtaposition of brutality and grandeur in this scene is striking. It’s also worth noting that there are several glimpses of an actual 1967 pro football game between the LA Rams and the Atlanta Falcons which make one appreciate how far the NFL has come in the last fifty years or so. Director of photography Burnett Guffey attempts to make up for Flemyng’s lack of confidence by throwing in some nice-looking individual shots, including some breathtaking panoramic views of the California landscape and a mesmerizing orange-drenched sunset. I also really liked a key image showing a sheet covering a dead body gradually turning red as it absorbs blood leaking from the corpse underneath – a well-designed, well-executed visual. Finally, the editing scheme of this movie (which was initially rather lackadaisical) kicks into high gear during the final act, ensuring that the picture ends on a high note even if it’s kind of sloppy in getting to that point.

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A few sequences here really stand out in the middle of all the mediocrity.

Considering the cast assembled for this film, what’s most shocking about The Split is that it quite simply is nowhere near as captivating or compelling as it should have been, hampered by a script that takes a long time to get going and doesn’t have enough really good ideas in it. If a viewer can stick through the slow-going first half, the film delivers a good amount of suspense while building towards its slam-bang climax, but nothing here is enough to make the film into something truly special. Honestly, The Split (which boasts a neat and funky music score from Quincy Jones) isn’t terrible and it probably would hold most viewers’ interests, but the most noteworthy thing about it in the bigger picture of cinema is that this was the first picture handed an R-rating by the MPAA (though it would probably be classified a PG-13 by today’s standards). Decent but completely unremarkable, I’d call this a film that would be most ideal for viewing on a rainy afternoon: not something that’s really worth seeking out, but by no means a complete waste either.

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As part of Warner Brothers’ Archive Collection, this film is presented in widescreen format with no extras.


5/10 : Some gun violence, associated death, and just a bit of gore


4/10 : Rather minimal profanity, but the film does have some racially sensitive dialogue during a few stretches


2/10 : Implied sexual encounters and fleeting partial nudity – nothing much.


4/10 : I would have hoped for more considering that unbelievable cast.

An all-too-telling line that sums up the film: “You’re not forgetting the money, are you?”

Hard Time by Sara Paretsky – decent, but hard to deal with the flaws

Hard Time by Sara Paretsky

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(3/5)

Pros: reasonable thriller that held my interest…

Cons: …but character’s motivations are suspect

Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski novels are like old shoes.  Reliable, comfortable, but might not have a lot of shine.  Such is the case with Hard Time.  It’s an OK mystery/thriller but nothing exceptional, nothing terribly exciting, and nothing I’ll even remember next week.

Who is V. I. Warshawski?  She’s a private investigator.  And a pretty good one at that.  She’s passionate about everything she tackles – from street fighting, to her fierce independence, and of course, to solving her cases.

In Hard Time, she literally stumbles onto a case.  Driving home one night she comes upon a woman lying in the road.  Swerving, V. I. just barely avoids hitting her.  A little investigating reveals that the woman is a prisoner escapee.  Prior to her stint in jail, she was the nanny for one of the town’s wealthiest families.  V. I. should just let the police investigate the case, but she can’t let it go.  She just has to know more about the woman, trying to figure out how she ended up in the road the way she did.  However, V. I. will come to find out that some very powerful people will do – well – pretty much anything – to prevent the real story from coming out.

I don’t really understand V. I.’s motivations in this book.  No one would have blamed her if she left the investigating to the police.  After all, there was no reason to suspect that the woman was anything more than a hit-and-run victim.  Later it becomes clear that the story’s far more sinister than that.  But, initially, there was no reason to suspect anything more than what it looked like.  Yet, V. I. can’t just let it be.  Despite the fact that she has other cases – paying cases – to work on, she devotes time to this case, on nothing more than a nagging feeling that there’s more than meets the eye.

I suppose, though, that there wouldn’t be a story, if V. I. didn’t put her nose where it didn’t necessarily belong.

Then there’s the gigantic BAD DECISION she makes about half-way through the book.  I capitalize it to emphasize just how bad her decision was.  I won’t spoil anything by giving the details, but let’s just say that if you or I or any rationally-thinking person were in the same spot, we would have acted differently.  In fact, the hideous situation in which V. I. lands is largely of her own doing; a different path would have made so much more sense, and avoided so much pain and suffering!

But – again – I suppose we needed V. I. to end up in a dire situation or we wouldn’t have the final third of the book!

Still, it seems to me that authors can manage to get their stories told without taking extreme short-cuts to get there.  In other words, use some imagination to get where you want to be without making our “hero” act like a fool.

Despite its flaws, Hard Time is a decent mystery/thriller that held my interest.  It really has a little of everything – murder, police and prison corruption, sweatshops, and black market logo merchandise.  There were also two dogs, and a really cool kid that I was definitely rooting for.

A decent read – but nothing great.  A solid 3-star thriller.

Also by Sara Paretsky:

Bitter Medicine

Daddy’s Little Girl – Mary Higgins Clark forgot one ingredient: excitement

Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark

 

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(2/5)

Pros: an interesting enough story

Cons: but lacks any real excitement

Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark is a pretty decent story – it held my interest and I certainly wanted to know how it would end.  But it’s lacking the pizzazz I look for, in a book that calls itself a “thriller”.

We meet the Cavanaugh family over 20 years ago, when their world was shattered with the murder of their eldest daughter Andrea.  Ellie was just a little kid that night but she was smart enough to know that nothing would ever be the same again.  How right she was!

Now it’s present-day and Ellie is a woman in her thirties.  She never stopped grieving for her older sister, and for the idyllic family life that was shattered by a moment of tragedy.  The man convicted of the crime has served over 20 years in prison and has come up for parole.  Ellie is determined to see that doesn’t happen. But when Rob Westerfield is set free, Ellie’s world is turned upside down again.  Rob and his wealthy/powerful family are determined to show the world that he had been wrongly convicted.  In fact, there’s someone else they are determined to pin the murder on.  Ellie is equally determined to prove that the right man had been put away all those years ago.  Thus she sets out on a one-woman mission to do just that.

However, Rob has plenty of support on his side.  People who will go to any length to restore the Westerfield reputation.  The more Ellie digs, the closer she gets to proving her case, the more it becomes obvious that her own life is now in danger from forces unseen.

There you have it – a one-woman-against-all-odds story.  Ellie has very little to go on, just the murky memories from that night in her childhood.  From there, it is no easy task to find clues to support her claims.  I was impressed with how she went about her investigation.  She was actually pretty smart in her endeavors.

She was also very likeable and very sympathetic.  It was very easy to root for her and hope she gets the resolution she seeks.

I also liked how Clark describes the family dynamics, and how it can all unravel in the face of tragedy.  I felt it was written realistically, given how awful the death of a child can be.

My problem with Daddy’s Little Girl is that it was devoid any real excitement.  Don’t look forward to any major twists and turns – there were none.  I kept waiting for that “A-Ha!!!” moment.  But it never came.  The story just sort of goes on and on until it eventually ends.  Sure, the ending was somewhat interesting.  And Clark adds an epilogue that ties everything up in a neat bow.  But it just took too long, and was way too slow-paced to get there.  In the end, it just wasn’t worth it.

Daddy’s Little Girl held my interest, and I liked the technique of our getting to re-examine an old case that had already been solved, to see if it had been solved correctly or not.  But Clark forget to add some excitement to the story.  As a result, this book is just “ok”… Nothing more than that.

 

Also by Mary Higgins Clark:

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting

Nighttime Is My Time

Third Degree by Greg Iles – held my interest, but full of flaws

Third Degree by Greg Iles

 

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(2/5)

Pros: held my interest

Cons: but has plenty of flaws

It’s funny.  There are some books that capture your attention from the first page, holding you captive ’til the very end.  And, yet, despite the fact that you stayed up late flipping those pages, you have to admit, it just wasn’t a great book.

Such is the case with Third Degree by Greg Iles.  This book should be made into a 2-hour Lifetime movie.  It’s the perfect script for it.  But as a book – despite being intriguing, it just had so many flaws!

The entire book takes place in one day.  A bad day for Laurel.  She just ended her extra-marital affair, and now she finds out she’s pregnant, no way to know who the father is.   Worst of all, she comes home to discover that her husband has just found some evidence of her infidelity.  He knows she’s been unfaithful, but not with whom.  And he’s on a mission to find out.  Slowly descending into utter madness, her husband is on the warpath.  Taking Laurel hostage at gunpoint, seemingly uncaring what becomes of her or of their two children, Warren wants a name – and he wants it now.  Laurel’s worst nightmare is unfolding as a husband she barely recognizes tries to find out just who her lover is.  Can Laurel keep her lover’s identity a secret long enough to ensure his safety?

There you have it – your basic “man takes family hostage” story.  Fast-paced, with plenty of suspense and action, my interest was held.  I certainly wanted to know how it would all work out.

But I also did a lot of eye-rolling – mostly at the sheer stupidity of the characters.  Let’s start with Laurel.  She’s supposed to be a smart lady.  But she wasn’t very smart when it came to keeping her affair a secret.  Sure, she did some things correctly.  For instance, she knew not to use her own cell phone for those illicit text messages.  However, didn’t any part of her think it might be dangerous to keep a hand-written note in the house.  Another piece of damaging evidence gets tossed into the yard where anyone could come across it.  I could think of a hundred different ways to get rid of the evidence that don’t involve tossing it into a yard where kids and dogs romp.

Now Warren – he was a bit smarter than his wife.  He actually had some pretty clever ways of finding what he wanted to know.  However, a big part of his plan was spoiled by a little kid.  Kind of reminded me of a silly scene from Home Alone.

Then there are the authorities.  Boy were they incompetent.  Let’s just say Iles went out of his way to paint them as buffoons – to a ridiculous point.  I get that if the authorities do their jobs too well, then we don’t have a story.  After all, there has to be some points given to the perpetrator or there’s nothing to write about.  But Iles went to an extreme in this regard.  I guess he knows it, too, because in the “acknowledgment” at the end of the book he goes out of his way to explain that the police in the book were NOT based on any real-life policemen… Thank goodness!

Of course, the real problem with Third Degree is that there are no good guys to root for.  Sure, we don’t want Laurel killed – she doesn’t deserve to die for what she did.  But she’s hardy a sympathetic character.  After all, her infidelity is what got her into this mess in the first place.  Then there’s her lover.  We’re supposed to think of him as a hero.  But let’s not forget – he’s cheating on his wife, too.  Warren is a wronged husband, so he would be a sympathetic character, but he’s too far over-the-top.  Especially since he’s putting not only his wife – but also his kids – in danger.  So who, exactly, are we supposed to root for here?

Held my interest, but definitely has its faults.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting – Mary Higgins Clark – it’s not “lite” !

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

 

 

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(5/5)

Pros: Three stories, all of which held my interest

Cons: None that I saw

In my past reviews I have referred to Mary Higgins Clark’s books as “thriller lite”.  They’re usually fairly simple stories, nothing too edgy or dark, certainly nothing that keeps you up at night.  But Daddy’s Gone A Hunting breaks that mold a bit, and I, for one, am thrilled!

This book qualifies as a true thriller, in my opinion, with all that genre entails.  Crimes, mysteries, likeable protagonists in danger, and evil antagonists that are fun to hate.  Yup, this book has it all!

There are multiple storylines in this book.  The main story revolves around a family-owned antique furniture business that explodes to smithereens in the middle of the night.  It’s quickly determined that the explosion was set on purpose.  So of course, we need to know who, and why.  But even more so – why were two people meeting there, in the middle of the night?  One, an ex-employee now dead; the other, the owner’s daughter, now in a coma.

The other two stories revolve around missing women.  One from a couple years ago – her body has been found, but the murder never solved. The other one disappeared twenty years ago.  No one knows if she’s dead or alive; the family has suffered with the lack of answers for two decades.

There you go – three different stories – all of which will intersect.  The fun in this type of book is figuring out exactly how the stories will connect, and, of course, solving all of the mysteries.  And boy, what a story it ends up being!

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting definitely held my interest – from page one until the very last sentence.  After all, it has a little of everything.  The characters, though numerous across all three stories, were very well drawn.  We definitely felt we got to “know” them.  The good ones were likeable.  The bad ones were easy to hate, yet we’re shown multiple sides to them, giving us some very complex people.  There’s a small bit of romance in this book, but strictly G-rated, which is a pleasure, compared to many other thrillers that feel the need to “go there”.

Finally, there are surprises and twists along the way that add to the fun. And even though I guessed one of the major twists a bit early, I think it was cleverly written.  It’s just that after reading – oh – about 2000 thrillers over years – you start to pick up on possibilities early on… Definitely not the author’s fault.

Overall, give Daddy’s Gone A Hunting a try if you like thrillers.  It’s not your typical Mary Higgins Clark “lite” fare, and for that I’m grateful.

 

Also by Mary Higgins Clark:

Daddy’s Little Girl

Nighttime Is My Time