Mystic River

[Amazon Link]

Clint Eastwood made this book into a depressing (but good) movie. Unsurprisingly, the book is also depressing (but good), written by one of my favorite authors, Dennis Lehane.

It's set in a dingy blue-collar tight-knit Boston neighborhood, a rat's nest of crime and general dysfunction. A brief opening section is set in 1975, when youngsters Jimmy, Sean, and Dave are engaged in boyish horseplay in the street. A couple predators drive up, pretending to be cops, and bamboozle young Dave into getting into their car; they drive off, leaving Sean and Jimmy vaguely aware that something very bad has happened to their buddy.

Things shift to 25 years later, and the childhood buddies have drifted apart. Dave has (ostensibly) recovered from his childhood trauma; Jimmy, after a brief career as a thief, has been released from the pen and is going straight, with a new wife and some kids; and Sean is a detective with the state police, just coming off a loose-cannon suspension. When Jimmy's daughter is brutally murdered, the twenty-five year old chickens come back to roost.

Lehane is a colorful, evocative writer; practically every page has some pyrotechnic prose that brightly illuminates some bit of character, setting, or plot.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 1:59 PM EST

Nine Queens

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We've been riding a wave of pretty good movies over the past few weeks, mostly because I've decided to trust Netflix's algorithm for judging what I'd like. This one's no exception, a taut little con-artist movie from Argentina, fortunately subtitled.

The movie opens with young Juan pulling an amateurish change raising scam on a slow-witted Esso station clerk. It works, but—since he's apparently stupid and greedy—he tries to pull it again when a new clerk comes on duty. This doesn't work well at all, but he's miraculously rescued by Marcos, who turns out to be an experienced grifter, willing to take a newbie like Juan under his shady wing.

As you might guess, Juan and Marcos team up and undertake a big con. And (as you also might guess, if you've seen more than zero movies in this genre) their finely-tuned plan nearly goes off the rails a number of times, things aren't what they seem, and double crosses, triple crosses, … n-tuple-crosses are likely.

The Argentinian atmosphere is interesting, and it's a lot of fun to follow the twisty plot.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 1:59 PM EST

Crazy Heart

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Continuing our Oscar catchup: this one was nominated for three, and won two: Jeff Bridges for Best Actor, and Best Song. Maggie Gyllenhaal was the nominee for Best Supporting Actress.

All well-deserved, but it spoiled my Dream Oscar Scenario: Jeff Bridges winning his first acting Oscar for playing Marshal Rooster Cogburn in the upcoming Coen-Brothers-directed version of True Grit; the original movie and role being where John Wayne nabbed his long-overdue Oscar 40 years ago.

That would have been cool. But what about this movie?

Bridges plays "Bad Blake", a country music has-been. His career is spinning down the toilet, and so is his life, due to chronic alcoholism and general inability to form enduring personal relationships. He meanders from gig to gig, living on bad food, whiskey, cigarettes, and the occasional one-night stand with women entranced by his past fame.

But then the aforementioned Ms. Gyllenhaal shows up, looking to do an interview for the local paper. She's different enough from the usual wham-bam to get Bad to pay attention, and (inexplicably, but this is a movie) she's interested enough as well. So the question is: can they overcome Bad's obvious character flaws to get him to some sort of happy ending? No spoilers here.

The plot itself is kind of familiar, but everything else in the movie is good enough to make it worth a spot on one's Netflix queue. In addition to Jeff and Maggie, Colin Farrell—of all people—shows up as a thoroughly believable country star. And it's realistic enough so that I swear I caught a whiff of cigarettes-whiskey-puke stench at a couple points; I'm sure that would have come through even more pungently if I had Blu-ray.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 1:59 PM EST