Author Nancy O. Greene Digs Deep into “The Thief Maker”

Nancy O. Greene calls The Thief MakerA Fascinating Examination of Human Nature.”

The title of the book is referenced early on when William the would-be Conqueror reflects upon the “days of castles and knights,” and bounty hunters/con men supposedly known in those times as thief takers and thief makers. The novel itself spans many years and 214 pages.

There are many clues in this book to understanding the psychological states of the characters. Take for instance the quote in the beginning, which says that there are the arrogant elite, fatalists, and the fringe groups. This story is about the fringe group. All of them, even Catherine and Rodames, two psychologists that adopt deaf children as well as one child, Rex, with HIV. They appear to be the perfect “elite” couple, caring and interested in healing the wounds of the world but they unfortunately are no different from the rest of the characters in the story—often angry at themselves and others, uncertain of their own motives and true emotions until it’s too late. They try hide all of this and suffer just like the rest of the players.

On the surface The Thief Maker is a mystery revolving around con man William Donovan. But it’s more than that—it is also an examination of the events and mental attributes that shape the lives of these characters. The major events that most people are aware of—such as 9/11, which plays a role in the book—and the all too common murders and everyday cons that go unreported in the newspapers and unnoticed by the public in general. The lives of the characters in this book are completely messed up when 9/11 occurs and that doesn’t change much afterwards. Some of the players are impacted by the terrorist attack more than others, but only as it relates to the already in-motion circumstances of their existences. Frequently they are not “masters of their destinies,” or aware of more than their own small worlds, even when they believe they are.

The author uses an interesting metaphor—E. Wisdom Foster’s photography collection titled Shadows and Dust: A Portrait of the living Earth in Four Seasons—to introduce the various sections of the book and this is wholly appropriate. These lives are indeed revolving, going through frightening, beautiful, and unstoppable changes that color the characters’ moods and actions in ways that they are at times oblivious to. And in the end at least some of them amount to little more than shadows and dust, unfulfilled and ultimately (almost) insignificant because of their own actions or lack thereof.

Felcie Morrison is a cold, calculating, and tormented woman that puts into motion events that damage those she claims to love–all without much care for herself or seemingly anyone else. William is just as confused about himself, though he clings to the idea of being a predator, a con man, in order to escape his own feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy. Alice is something of a mystery, at times coy and innocent but also possessing a darker side that she seems to be more aware of than her counterparts are aware of their vulnerability. Frank Morrison and Marcus are presented initially as observers, brought into the drama through their professions, and they too have their somewhat hidden, yet inescapable parts. There are other characters that are introduced throughout the story, to play their parts, exit, and return as necessary to complete the web in which they are all entangled.

And in the middle there is Rex, so much like young William at the beginning of the novel, trying to figure out the events as they play out and his own role within it all. Perhaps how his circumstance plays out is central to the theme of the story, as he is just a child unable to act on his own life without being tied to the adults that are involved in it.

The story itself is very good as an entertaining mystery as well as an in-depth look into those that interact with the real world but separate from it as well, consumed by their own universes. There are times when the book moves along too slowly, where it could be tighter and the writing could be less clunky. But these spots are far between and are easy enough to get through. Also, at times, the characters come across as stereotypes—weak or unaffectionate women, brutish or love-deprived macho men—but as the story develops this matters little as the stereotypes fill out and the characters become real within the life of the novel. The Pulp Fiction out-of-sequence style of writing fits for this particular tale; a linear style would not do justice to symbolically display the characters’ confused, messed up emotional states and lives. Overall, it is a well-written, inventive story that strikes at the heart of what it means for some people to love, hate, be indifferent and get carried along in global as well as personal events.

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The reviewer, Nancy O. Greene, is the the author of Portraits in the Dark and the moderator of the Writers’ Block:

http://www.writersgroupblog.wordpress.com
 

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For the Glory of ROME!

…and so Sunday, March 25, 2007 marked the end of one of the greatest television shows ever produced, Rome.

A massive and sprawling co-production of HBO and the BBC filmed on location on elaborate and wildly expensive sets in Italy, Rome spanned two seasons and close to two decades of ancient history.  Essentially, this was a 22-hour feature film, quite unlike anything ever done before, and probably nothing that comes after it will ever compare.  Full of ferocious violence, scintillating sex, politics, war, and scores of nudity, Rome was both ribald and regal, presenting a pulsing, bleeding and frightfully alive view of Roman history from Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul to (Augustus) Octavian Caesar’s triumph over the rebel Marc Antony and Cleopatra. 

The show took much liberty with history, creating liaisons both sexual and political which most likely never existed, and presented much of the complex and intertwining stories through the eyes of Titus Pullo (played by a virulent but jolly Ray Stevenson) and Lucious Vorenus (played with a stoic self-hatred by Kevin McKidd)–fictional soldiers of Rome whose lives went on tragic roller coasters with the rise and fall of power.  Everyone will have their favorite side story or character (I particularly grew fond of Posca and Jocasta in the end), and the final episode culminated with all the grand drama you would expect from the double suicide of Antony and Cleopatra.  It was a scenario done many times over by some of the greatest writers in history and put to film before, but never done with so much realistic gusto, gritty spectacle, and true emotion.

Like all great soap operas that have tackled ancient history, Rome featured an awesome cast of finely tuned British thespians:

Polly Walker was simply amazing as the highly fictionalized and slanderous take on Atia-the scheming, manipulative, and powerful niece of Julius Caesar and mother to Octavian.  Her quietly tragic story arc ultimately made her sympathetic despite all the evil things she had done.  Her closing line to Livia about “far greater women than you have plotted against me” in the final episode made me want to cheer.  Walker’s performance was juicy and salacious fun without ever resorting to scenery chewing.

 

James Purefoy was a pitch perfect Marc Antony, showcasing the character as a ruthless madman of a general beloved by his people and an ineffective politician whose greatest weapon was his ability to put fear into the Senate and nobility.  He delivered his lines with equal parts pomposity and deadpan humor.  His, “Now that’s an exit,” upon seeing Servilia commit suicide outside of Atia’s house was nothing short of classic. 

Lyndsey Marshall presented us with a writhing, seething depiction of Cleopatra, demure and charming in public, debaucherous and raging in private, multi-faceted and more real than any past portrayal of the infamous Egyptian queen.  Here we saw a woman desperately seeking to hold onto a crumbling empire, using her intelligence, charm, and sexuality to gain political pull.  When she gives her dying breaths to Octavian after kissing the asp and tells him, “You have a rotten soul,” you know she means it, and by the look in his eyes, she’s made him believe it. 

Kerry Condon as a flighty but endearing Octavia, Lindsay Duncan as an arrogant and self-aggrandizing Servilia, Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar, Tobias Menzies as sniveling Brutus, the exotically beautiful Indira Varma as Niobe, Ian McNiece as the overly dramatic and sometimes comical Forum Newsreader, and Max Pirkis and later Simon Woods as Octavian were simply perfect in their roles as were the hundreds of others playing the fascinating parade of lively fictional and historical characters.

After Octavian’s triumph, the final episode closes on a slightly false note presenting us with an alternative view of documented facts that plays on the more fanciful connections made between the fictional characters and the actual history.  Still, it was a grand finale to a truly superb series that will be sorely missed.  Nero and Caligula, we didn’t even get to know you.

Written by David H. Schleicher

A Review of Thomas Mullen’s “The Last Town on Earth”

A Novel

  Intimate and Fascinating Historical Fiction

Reviewer: David H. Schleicher

See all my reviews

Thomas Mullen’s debut novel, “The Last Town on Earth” tells a tale both intimate and epic in its depiction of a small Northwestern town that attempts to close itself off from the rest of the world during the height of WWI and the Spanish Flu Epidemic.

At times, Mullen’s writing style is long-winded and overly descriptive. He creates an amazingly detailed sense of time, place, and people in his descriptions of the town of Commonwealth and its inhabitants. However, the early sections move a bit too slowly and are plagued with the overuse of commas, adverbs, and adjectives and riddled with long passages where not much happens at all. Mullen is the type of writer who likes to describe something, describe something next to it, and then describe both things together in a slightly different way. He made the characters and situations compelling enough for me to want to read on, but this was one of those books I found easy to put down and could discard for days or a week at time.

Luckily, this all changed around the 200-page mark (slightly more than half way through). Once all hell breaks loose, and outsiders and the flu come crashing down on Commonwealth, the pace of the novel picks up drastically, and I had come to care for the characters so much (especially the Worthy family, Graham, and Elsie) that I could hardly tear myself away from the ensuing pages.

Mullen’s descriptions of the symptoms of the flu are vivid and graphic, without ever being gratuitous or reaching that gross-out level. Likewise, he handles the few scenes of visceral violence with a similar level of class. His often stilted style of writing is best suited when he describes the physical attributes of his settings and creates haunting, post-card perfect images of the town and people. Mullen should also be commended for balancing well the wide-eyed innocence of the teenage characters (Phillip Worthy and Elsie) with the grizzled wisdom of the adults in their life (Charles Worthy, Doc Banes, Graham, and the other mill workers) and the often inhospitable and brutal nature of their surroundings, predicaments, and reactions of their neighbors. He peppers his intimate small-town tale with lots of epic side-stories involving draft-dodging, labor strikes, warring timber mills, first loves, tragic childhoods, passionate romances, and political uprising. It all makes for grand drama.

Despite some flaws, “The Last Town on Earth” is an intriguing and intimate glimpse into a fascinating time and place in our not-so-distant past when some small towns attempted reverse quarantines to hold off the flu epidemic that ultimately killed 100 million people worldwide. This was also a time when many people felt strongly against America’s involvement in The Great War. The paranoia, the fear, and the guilt felt over decisions made mirrors events both past and current. It’s a timeless tale, told in a timely way, which will speak to many in a heartfelt and real fashion.

A Review of Zack Snyder’s “300”

I think the huge success of 300 can be attributed to its glorfication of at least one dark desire of just about everyone.  It unites us through our vices.  I was entertained by the spectacle of it and sickened by its message.

One Nation Under a Raving Lunatic, 13 March 2007
5/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Zack Snyder’s gleefully insane adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, “300” just may be the first movie to appeal to both radically hawkish hard-line conservatives and to the most outgoing section of the gay community. Zack Snyder, it seems, is a uniter, not a divider. “300” is over-the-top visually and thematically, morally corrupt, erotically jingoistic, and infected with both nihilistic and fascist sensibilities.

In an attempt to make the onslaught of computer generated images appear more like film, Snyder decides to add a faux-graininess to many of the more elaborate shots, which makes much of them hard to see. Of course, some of these images aren’t without their artistic merit, often visually transfixing and compelling in their composition. Overall, he does a commendable job in his literal translation of comic book images to the big screen (much in the same vein as the far superior “Sin City.”) Some of it (like most of the well staged and fantastically gory battle scenes) is amazing, but much of it (even the Spartan soldiers’ abs look computer generated) is just plain silly.

For a movie that attempts to be so trailblazing from a visual perspective, the storyline stays alarmingly close to the conventions of both macho-man war epics and comic book action films. The dialogue is mostly screaming and vague speeches about “honor and liberty and justice” backed-up by glaring and pompous music. It makes the script from “Gladiator” seem like Shakespeare in comparison. As far as the cast goes, the beautiful Lena Headey lends herself nicely to the film’s aesthetics and acts as if she is staring in a far more refined historical epic. In the lead role of mad King Leonidas, Gerard Butler does a wildly entertaining impersonation of someone doing a spoof on a young and robust Sean Connery. He’s the only one seeming to have fun with the self-seriousness of the whole endeavor, and dare I say it, this could be a star-making role for him.

Lambasting “300” for historical inaccuracies would be like condemning “American Idol” for not allowing presidential candidates to debate on the show between songs. History is not what this film is about. In some ways it feebly tries to channel the spirit of Greek myth. In its celebration of physical beauty, view of courage as how loud you can scream and how many people you can decapitate, and idolizing the mentality of “freedom at any costs,” it appeals to both ancient Greeks and unfortunately, a certain segment of the modern audience. Ultimately, this is just another film that fetishizes death and martyrdom over the innate will to survive. Even Mel Gibson’s equally violent “Apocalypto” recognized man’s unshakable will to live. Willing a glorious death is no way to spend one’s life, and as entertaining as much of it is, “300” panders to our basest desires of self annihilation.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0416449/usercomments-561

A Review of David Fincher’s “Zodiac”

Effectively Creepy and Engrossing True Crime Tale, 6 March 2007
8/10

Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

David Fincher has taken nearly five years off between films, and he has returned a more mature and accomplished director with his fascinating “Zodiac.” It may not reach the cult status of his “Seven” or “Fight Club” or find the box office success of “Panic Room,” but by many measures it may be his most carefully crafted film. More in line with the crime epics of directors like Michael Mann than with the typical serial-killer thriller, “Zodiac” is propelled by inventive direction, a great cast, engaging attention to detail, and a killer soundtrack of classic songs from the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

Based on the book by Robert Graysmith (played effectively here by Jake Gyllenhaal), “Zodiac” is meticulous in its details (both in dialogue and Fincher’s finely painted visuals) and sprawling in plot and its parade of intriguing characters. Mark Ruffalo is especially compelling playing the lead detective who becomes obsessed with the case, and Robert Downey Jr. does his best macabre comic relief job as the boozing and drugging reporter Paul Avery who was targeted for a brief time by the infamous killer. There’s also a fine supporting cast featuring Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, and John Caroll Lynch among many others, all doing top notch work.

Fincher’s digital VIPER camera lends itself surprising well to the period detail and look of the 1970’s. Though some of the more brightly lit shots aren’t as clear and in focus as you would like, this is the first movie I can think of shot on all digital where some of the cinematography could actually be called beautiful (check out any of the skyline shots and the great overhead of the Golden Gate Bridge). Fincher crafts some truly creepy moments using simple lighting techniques featuring characters hopping into strange cars on deserted highways, traipsing through dimly lit homes, or nervously making their way down a dark creaky staircase into a fathomless basement. There’s also some nice freak-out moments in the classy and sharply filmed murder scenes and when characters receive eerie phone-calls from the so-called killer or his equally sick copycats. I didn’t realize how effective Fincher’s technique was until I went home alone to my dark apartment and felt a sudden lump in my throat when a friend made an unexpected late night call.

There are times when the film becomes bogged down with police procedural aspects, and its epic runtime is apparent, though most of the slow parts still remain engrossing. Graysmith makes it clear who he thinks the killer was, though the case was officially unsolved. When all the pieces finally fit together, the audience feels the same sickening giddiness as Graysmith and the detectives long plagued by the cryptic case that held much of San Franciso hostage knowing that the prime suspect will never be convicted on so much circumstantial evidence. In the end, Fincher leaves you with some haunting feelings, and if anything is certain, it’s that Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” will never be listened to the same again.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0443706/usercomments-109

Quality Book Reviews Explores “The Thief Maker”

Mystery with Psychological aspects, March 3, 2007

Reviewer: Terry South “Quality Book Reviews” (Maryville, TN USA)

William Donovan is a con man who steals from nursing home residents, and his girlfriend Alice, and the security guard Lucas Tolliver are his accomplices. They prey on the Alzheimer’s ward, knowing these patients cannot be witness to their crimes. Felice Morrison, the granddaughter to one of the nursing home’s residents and Marcus Pierce a private investigator are determined to put a stop to Donovan and his accomplices. The setting takes place on the streets of New York and Philadelphia.

As the story continues, the characters interact and then you become aware that Donovan and his accomplices have ties that you did not know about in the beginning. A great read for those who enjoy mysteries. This is not only a thriller and a mystery, but it also plays on the psychological aspects, including memory loss. The characterizations are engaging, and believable.

This was a wonderful book full of twists and turns and lots of surprises.

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A Review of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette”

Every year there’s that one film that is unfairly maligned by critics either for its troubling subject matter (like 2004’s underrated Nicole Kidman reincarnation melodrama Birth) or for its unique style that turns off a lot of people…like the film reviewed below.  Sofia Coppola is quickly becoming an auteur you either love or hate.  Her Marie Antoinette (adapted from the book by Antonia Frazer) was recently released on DVD after an undeservedly brief run in theaters this past October.

More than a Trifle…, 27 February 2007
8/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

From its beguiling star Kirsten Dunst to the maddeningly beautiful locales to the visual sumptuousness and “taste” (you almost feel as if you could eat some of the scenery and clothes) of the costumes and art design, Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” is an entrancing and lavish period piece of the highest order.

Many of the early scenes of the Austrian and French woodlands and the palatial splendor of Versailles are cloaked in an almost “otherworldly” austerity, evoking the spirit of Stanley Kubrick’s ultimate costume-drama, “Barry Lyndon.” Later, when our heroine finds some inner piece at the countryside estate she is given as a gift after the birth of her first child, Coppola immerses the viewer in the transcendent splendor of natural sounds and beautiful images that channels the fluid mise-en-scene composition of the best work of Terrence Malick. All of this is tied together by Coppola’s now signature dreamily listless camera play that makes her unlike any other director working today.

In the lead role, Kristen Dunst is mesmerizing. She’s always been a better actress than she’s been given credit for. She’s only previously been allowed to really stretch her acting muscle when she took on the role of Marion Davies in the excellent “Cat’s Meow” and as the emotionally unstable teen in the misguided “Crazy/Beautiful.” Here, without much dialouge, and present in just about every scene, she speaks volumes with her eyes and body language. Coppola only briefly channeled into Dunst’s innate talents in “The Virgin Suicides” and wonderfully fulfills the promise of a fruitful director/actor collaboration that those with a keen eye could divine from their first experiment together.

Of course, those who measure a biopic by its historical accuracies will cry blasphemy at some of the treatment here, most notably the use of new-wave pop music in equal measure with a classical score. Also, the drama of the French Revolution is glossed over spare for the final ten minutes, almost as it it were a side-note in history. The vapidness and decadence of the French Court is Coppola’s focus, as is the alienation of a people from their government, family members from each other, and most importantly a young woman from herself. Though this classic theme of alienation (which permeates many of the great films from Coppola’s father’s contemporaries) seems to be treated here with a softer touch that on the surface paints it as a trifle…the haunting closing scenes of Dunst leaving Versailles behind forever are not without their emotional resonance.

If Coppola delivers us a big hit with her next project, or not too far thereafter…then I suspect in about ten or fifteen years, “Marie Antoinette” will be looked upon far more fondly than it has been thus far. Rightfully its costume design took home an Oscar. If the movie gods smile down upon us, Coppola will have a long fruitful career, and this film will surely be more than just a foot note of her early days.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0422720/usercomments-384