Moonlight Mile

[Amazon Link]

In the private-eye genre, there are prolific writers, and then there's Dennis Lehane: he's cranked out all of six novels with Boston-based heroes Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro over the past twenty years. Recently, he's shown more interest in standalone works not so easily pigeonholed (Shutter Island, Mystic River, etc.) No spoilers, but Moonlight Mile could easily be the last Kenzie/Gennaro book.

It is a sequel of sorts to Gone Baby Gone (which was also a pretty good movie), in which Patrick and Angie worked to find an abducted four-year-old girl, Amanda McCready. The ending of that book was heart-rending. As one character observes here, Patrick "did the right thing. But it was still wrong." It wrecked the lives of many well-meaning people, placed Amanda back into the custody of her dreadfully dysfunctional bio-mother, and (at least temporarily) ruined Patrick's and Angie's budding romantic relationship.

But it's twelve years later, Patrick and Angie are married, with a beautiful four-year-old of their own. Things aren't perfect: they're on the edge of financial disaster. Patrick is trying to wangle a full-time investigator job with a prestigious Boston firm, but it remains just out of reach, due to the huge chip on his shoulder born of working-class resentment against the well-to-do; he can't disguise his contempt for the firm's rich clients.

And then comes the bombshell: Amanda, now sixteen years old, has apparently gone missing again. The ripples of Gone Baby Gone extend into the previous day. Patrick and Angie go on the hunt, and bump up against (once again) Amanda's disgusting mother and her new boyfriend; Amanda's high school classmates, teachers, and counselors; petty thieves who are paid to chase them off the case; and eventually some very nasty Russian mobsters. Patrick follows the slimy and dangerous trail where it leads, out of a sense of duty born of his unsatisfactory resolution of Amanda's case twelve years ago.

Lehane is a wonderful writer, and I'm very fond of this series. If it must end, so be it, but I'll be sad.


Last Modified 2014-05-20 5:16 PM EST

Particle Fever

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We've been undergoing a real dearth of movie-watching of late. But Pun Daughter and her boyfriend dragged us out of our rut for a trip to Portsmouth to see Particle Fever at the Music Hall Loft. (Venue review: it was my first time there, the movie was 99 minutes, and the seating in the theatre would not have been tolerable for much more than that.)

Particle Fever is a documentary about the search for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), just outside of Geneva, straddling the border between France and Switzerland. As a physics major, I appreciated that the movie's heroes are physicists, both theoretical and experimental, the real-life versions of the fictional characters on The Big Bang Theory. We follow a handful of them over a few years, as the LHC approaches its go-live date, and experimental results start to trickle out.

At this level, the physics is difficult for laymen to comprehend. (And me too; I never got more than hand-waving close to the sophisticated theory underpinning the Standard Model of elementary particles.) But the basic idea is simple to understand: you collide protons, moving at 0.999999991c, head-on into each other, easily overcoming their normal electric repulsion, let them rip each other apart, and examine what flies out of the collisions. You would never see a Higgs Boson directly, but what you do see would strongly imply its existence and properties.

The movie understandably glosses over the details of the physics, just lets the physicists talk, occasionally scrawling incomprehensible formulae and Feynman diagrams on chalkboards. Neither is there an effort to go beyond superficial descriptions of the experimental setup. (The moviemakers probably correctly judged at what point their audience's eyes would start glazing over.) There is some mumbo-jumbo about What It All Means: if the Higgs is found, then its observed mass makes various theories of supersymmetry and multiverses either more or less likely, which has implications for (yes) the Big Bang Theory, and how the universe will either end, or not.

There is heartbreak, caused by an accident that destroys some of the accelerator's superconducting magnets, causing a shutdown of over a year. But there's also triumph as the two independent teams searching for the Higgs present their results, with Peter Higgs himself in the audience. (Spoiler: yes, they found it.)

Quibble: The movie takes shots at the US's cancellation of its own big-physics machine, the Superconducting Supercollider near Waxahachie, Texas. Brief C-SPAN clips from 1993 of a couple of GOP Congresscritters are shown decrying the expenditure of billions on the facility; the movie wants us to jeer at the ignorant yahoos (and the Portsmouth audience complied, of course) carrying out the long-running Republican War on Science!

But that's a mistaken impression. Democrats were in control of the House when the SSC funding was cut, the termination was orchestrated by Jim Slattery, a House Democrat from Kansas, and the Congressional votes were bipartisan. The movie's story in this area is a drive-by cheap shot.

Other than that, the movie is very watchable, competently put together, imaginative at times, funny at others, occasionally visually stunning.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 1:24 PM EST