Pali Road (2015)

vt Xia Wei Yi Zhi Lian
US, China / 95 minutes / color / Crimson Forest, Cuixing, China Film Assist, Dadi, Island Dir: Jonathan Lim Pr: Daxing Chang, Cathy Lee, Kenneth Burke, Jonathan Lim Scr: Doc Pedrolie, Victoria Arch Cine: Quyen Tran Cast: Michelle Chen, Jackson Rathbone, Sung Kang, Henry Ian Cusick, Lauren Sweetser, Elizabeth Sung, Tzi Ma, Maddox Lim, Elevila Giles, Yamato Cibulka, Conner Lum, Kelly Rice.

I’m not sure whether this is a psychological puzzler, a neonoir (just possibly) or a fantasy of perception (to use the term I coined for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy), but what I do know is that it’s an immensely satisfying movie.

On Hawaii, hospital heart specialist Lily (or Lilly) Zhang (Chen) is much in love with her boyfriend, elementary schoolteacher Neil Lang (Rathbone, of Twilight fame; no relation to Basil), who wants to marry her. They’re arguing about the logistics of this when he drives off the road and crashes into a wall.

Michelle Chen as Lily

At a later time Lily awakens to discover she’s been married for years to her boss at the Ohana Hospital, Dr. Mitch Kayne (Kang), and they have a five-year-old son together, James (Lim). Everyone, including psychologist/hypnotherapist/neurologist Tim Young (Cusick), tells her that her memories of her life with Neil are just coma-induced fantasies.

Jackson Rathbone as Neil

Lily disagrees. She googles Neil, Continue reading

book: The Big Bow Mystery (1891) by Israel Zangwill

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Published initially as a newspaper serial in 1891, The Big Bow Mystery is generally regarded as the first locked-room mystery novel. (It’s retitled in some editions The Perfect Crime to match the title of the 1928 movie based on the book, the first screen adaptation of three.)

No one can believe it when mild-mannered Arthur Constant is found dead in his bed one morning in the house where he lodged in Bow, in London’s East End. The dead man seemed to have had no enemies: he was a Christian and a socialist who practiced what he preached by trying to help the lot of the poor, he was personally generous to a fault, ever polite, ever affable and friendly. A fine, upstanding human being, in other words.

Scotland Yard, in the form of over-cocky Inspector Edward Wimp, soon focuses on Continue reading

book: Pursuit (2019) by Joyce Carol Oates

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The family-less, agnostic Abby marries Willem despite his deeply Christian family and his own religiosity. The morning after the wedding, before the marriage has even been consummated, Abby steps under a bus on her way to work. Was is it an attempted suicide or an accident brought about by her distraction of mind? As she lies in hospital, firstly in a coma and then in various decreasing levels of care, we learn in a long flashback of the nightmare childhood that led her to this place. Once she regains strength, she tells Willem the truth of her past, and together they . . . Continue reading

book: Van Gogh’s Bad Café (1997) by Frederic Tuten

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An odd little book that somehow I found myself liking while at the same time not enjoying it very much at all.

One day at the end of the twentieth century, while rambling in Alphabet City, NYC, our narrator meets a mysterious young Frenchwoman, dressed in archaic garb, who steps out of a crevice in a wall. She is, it emerges, Ursula, the lover of Vincent van Gogh. Somehow she has traveled through time and space to be here. At first all she wants to find is a reliable source of the morphine she craves. For his part all the narrator wants is her love, but that’s something she can’t give him because it belongs to Vincent, to whom she’s determined to return once she’s explored this new age. She can Continue reading

Eddie’s Place (1955 TVM)

US / 25 minutes / bw / Four Star Productions, CBS Dir & Pr: Roy Kellino Scr: Willard Wiener, Herbert A. Spiro Story: A.E. Houghton Jr (i.e., Buck Houghton) Cine: George E. Diskant Cast: Ida Lupino, William Talman, Kathryn Card, Louis Jean Heydt, Glen Gordon.

This was episode #24 of the third season of Four Star Playhouse (1952–6); some while ago I wrote about another episode of this TV series, A String of Beads (1954 TVM) dir William Cameron Menzies and starring Angela Lansbury. That episode was an odd one out: the format of the series was that Charles Boyer, David Niven, Ida Lupino and Dick Powell would take turns starring in the playlets that made up the episodes. On March 10 1955 it was Lupino’s turn again.

Ida Lupino as Ellen

Ellen (Lupino), having finished her sentence at a labor camp, The Farm, hitches a ride from Eddie Reeves (Talman). He gives her a job in the diner he owns, Eddie’s Place, whose Continue reading

book: The Hunting Party (2019) by Lucy Foley

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A bunch of old Oxford University friends get together every year for a New Year’s holiday, and this time they’ve come to a remote Scottish estate for the celebrations. However, early on New Year’s Day one of them goes missing, and the next day the murdered corpse is found by the estate staff. The estate is isolated from the rest of the world by a severe snowstorm. There’s a serial killer at large in the region. What’s going on?

The first thing to recognize is that Continue reading

Johnny Cool (1963)

US / 104 minutes / bw / Chrislaw, United Artists Dir & Pr: William Asher Scr: Joseph Landon Story: The Kingdom of Johnny Cool (1959) by John McPartland Cine: Sam Leavitt Cast: Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Richard Anderson, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, Brad Dexter, Wanda Hendrix, Hank Henry, Marc Lawrence, John McGiver, Gregory Morton, Mort Sahl, Telly Savalas, Joan Staley, Sammy Davis Jr., Katharine Bard, Steve Peck, Douglas Henderson, Frank Albertson, Mary Scott, Elisha Cook (i.e., Elisha Cook Jr), John Dierkes, Robert Armstrong, Michael Davis.

A deliberate evocation of the films noirs and gangster movies more usually associated with releases from two or three decades earlier, this adds glossy production values, a splendid score and plenty of star names. And yet, while highly watchable, it seems to lose much of those qualities—most obviously in the areas of direction and cinematography—that made its models so grittily absorbing.

Michael Davis as the young Giordano

In 1943 in Sicily, young Salvatore Giordano (Michael Davis) learns to kill as part of the Resistance fighting back against the fascists who killed his mother. Twenty years later, he’s a bandit chieftain, a Robin Hood figure with a huge price on his head . . . yet unlikely to be arrested because the local cops and politicians are on his side.

One day, though, as Giordano (Silva) attends a wedding, the authorities arrive in force and chase him off into the wild countryside. There they apparently put an end to the career of the great Salvatore Giordano.

Henry Silva as Johnny/Giordano

But no. Next we know he’s in chains in Rome, where Continue reading

book: Father Panic’s Opera Macabre (2000) by Thomas Tessier

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Historical novelist Neil is motoring around Italy when his car breaks down near a big old mansion occupied by a strange group of old people, a forceful priest and a red-hot babe, Marisa. Marisa offers to put him up for the night while the servants do something about his car. Cue a bonkathon. A few days later, as Neil wonders if he really wants to go home, ever, there’s an abrupt transition into a different place and time, where Neil witnesses acts of unspeakable sadism and finds his own life at risk.

There’s a lot of fairly explicit sex in the first Continue reading

book: Caught (2010) by Harlan Coben

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We were away at a science fiction convention this past weekend, so everything’s a bit sleepy and tentative around Noirish Towers today. This will be just a quick note . . .

TV investigative journalist Wendy Tynes ensnares social worker Dan Mercer in a sting operation, the latest triumph of her show’s campaign to expose pedophiles. But then Mercer’s murdered — right in front of her — and Wendy begins to realize the anonymous tip that drew her to him is just part of a far wider pattern of persecution that’s tied to the disastrous consequence of a decades-ago university prank. In fact, was Mercer a pedophile at all or was this a baseless slur? Was she an unwitting part of a cruel conspiracy?

Untangling the truth may put Wendy and her family at risk, but . . . Continue reading

Star (2001)

vt The Hire: Star
US / 9 minutes / color / Anonymous Content, BMW Films Dir: Guy Ritchie Pr: Aristides McGarry, Robyn Boardman Scr: Guy Ritchie, Joe Sweet Concept: Fallon Cine: Chris Soos Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Beattie, Toru Tanaka Jr., Madonna, DTeflon, Troy Aguayo, Christie McNew, Woon Young Park.

This was #4 in a series of short movies made by Anonymous Content for BMW, designed for internet consumption. All the movies starred Clive Owen as Driver, a man who rented himself and his BMW out to various clients. The movies had distinguished casts and equally distinguished directors:

  • Ambush (2001) dir John Frankenheimer
  • Chosen (2001) dir Ang Lee
  • The Follow (2001) dir Wong Kar-wai
  • Star (2001) dir Guy Ritchie
  • Powder Keg (2001) dir Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Hostage (2002) dir John Woo
  • Ticker (2002) dir Joe Carnahan
  • Beat the Devil (2002) dir Tony Scott

You can find a short “Making of” movie here and an ancillary piece, “Driving Techniques,” about the stunts, here.

Clive Owen as Driver

A pendant to the series came a decade and a half later with Continue reading