One of my favorite crime writers — Jonathan Santlofer — will be speaking tonight at 7:30 at the New Canaan Library.
Santlofer is on a national tour for his latest thriller, “The Murder Notebook” (William Morrow), the second novel about New York City police sketch artist Nate Rodriguez who is drawn into a very scary case involving Iraq war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
I am a big fan of the first three novels Santlofer wrote after a long and successful career as an artist. The author created a great character, Kate McKinnon, who was a Queens cop before becoming an art historian and public television personality.
Kate’s expertise in art and police work came into play in the three cases covered in “The Death Artist,” “Color Blind” and “The Killing Art.” The novels are all wonderfully atmospheric with Santlofer demonstrating his insider’s knowledge of the downtown art scene as well as life in the outer boroughs.
The McKinnon novels placed Santlofer securely in the company of such other high-level contemporary New York City crime writers as Jim Fusilli, S.J. Rozan and Peter Spiegelman — all of whom seem to relish the unique mix of high life and low life to be found in the city they love.
Santlofer took a break from the well-received series to write the first Nate Rodriguez book last year — “Anatomy of Fear.” I took a break as well until I had the chance to talk with the writer about “The Murder Notebook” for a story that will run in my Sunday “Book Beat” column on July 6.
I was so fond of the McKinnon books that I was a tad reluctant to meet a new character last year. Now that I’ve read the second Nate novel I can see that I should have known that Santlofer would not disappoint with a new series.
Indeed, “The Murder Notebook” has all of the qualities that I enjoyed in the earlier novels — a believably flawed protagonist, a frightening crime that demands a cop-artist’s involvement, and a richly drawn portrait of life in New York City right now.
Nate is representative of the city’s cultural mix — his mother is Jewish and his late father (a cop killed in the line of duty) was Puerto Rican.
The young sketch artist has an almost supernatural ability to coax accurate suspect drawings out of witnesses — he also calls on his Puerto Rican grandmother’s gifts as a seer and practitioner of Santeria.
Santlofer gives “The Murder Notebook” an extra level of interest by including many of Nate’s sketches and eerie drawings of a facial reconstruction project he works on using a skull.
The book has a strong paranoid thriller element as Nate wonders if the FBI is trying to cover up a series of murder-suicides involving mentally unbalanced veterans. Santlofer’s orchestration of the mystery plot and the weaving of Nate’s personal problems into the story are so masterful that you should polish off “The Murder Notebook” in a few sittings.
Now, I can’t wait to get to “Anatomy of Fear.”
(Jonathan Santlofer will be at the New Canaan Library, 151 Main St., tonight at 7:30 p.m.)
One of my favorite crime writers — Jonathan Santlofer — will be speaking tonight at 7:30 at the New Canaan Library.
When Tina Brown’s book, “The Diana Chronicles,” appeared in hardcover last year I didn’t read it despite the good reviews and the fact that it shot to the top of the best-seller list.
I never really thought much about Princess Diana or her marital problems back in the 1980s and 1990s because it seemed that we had enough gossipy crises to contend with on this side of the Atlantic.
But, last weekend I raced through the recently published Broadway Books paperback edition of Brown’s in-depth account of the disastrous marriage of Diana and Charles — and the rather sad single life of the princess before her car accident death in 1997.
Brown has put the whole story together in a breezy yet analytical style that makes for highly absorbing reading, starting with the end of the tale in a chapter called, “A Tunnel in Paris.”
The author knew Diana casually, and wrote about her in Tatler magazine — at the time of the 1981 fairy tale wedding to Prince Charles — and then continued to follow the quickly collapsing marriage in the pages of Vanity Fair (which Brown turned into a smashing success when she took over the top job there after the magazine’s shaky launch).
“The Diana Chronicles” takes a sympathetic but clear-eyed view of a rather dim young woman who was swept up in the idea of marrying the future King of England, but never thought the idea through (a warning bell should have gone off in the girl’s head when Charles was asked in a pre-wedding interview if he was “in love” with Diana and the royal replied, “Whatever in love means”).
Brown makes it clear that Diana wasn’t exaggerating when she described herself as being “thick as a plank” but she still makes us care about this celebrity-mad, self-dramatizing and doomed woman.
The author also establishes the fact that the conspiracy theories of Dodi Al Fayed’s father just don’t make any sense: “As for the sinister forces organizing the crash of the Mercedes, a conspiracy would have been beyond the capacities of all the intelligence agencies and royal masterminds in the grassy knoll of Al Fayed’s imagination: pre-knowledge that Dodi would make the last-minute decisions he did; that Henri-Paul would be the driver; that Paul would be drunk and drugged; that he would not follow the most obvious route to Dodi’s apartment…that Dodi and Diana would not wear seatbelts — and on and on through an infinity of variables.”
You only have until Sunday to see the rarely produced Tennessee Williams play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore” in a beautiful Hartford Stage production by artistic director Michael Wilson.
Dismissed on Broadway in two separate early 1960s productions — one featuring Tallulah Bankhead, who was by then in no shape to star in a challenging new play — “Milk Train” is not in the same class as the Williams masterpieces, but how many plays measure up to “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”?
What “Milk Train” has in abundance is the Williams poetry and a still-unsettling frankness in the way the writer deals with mortality and sex.
The two central characters in the play — a dying celebrity named Flora Goforth and the poor and homeless poet Chris Flanders — often appear to be distillations of character types Williams wrote about throughout his career. The relationship of the older woman and the handsome younger man is not unlike that between the movie actress Alexandra del Lago and the gigolo Chance Wayne in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
But by the time of “Milk Train” Williams was willing to face his own terror of death by making Flora terminally ill and desperate to complete her memoirs before she dies. Chris offers Flora the teasing possibility of a new sexual relationship until it becomes clear that his society nickname “the angel of death” has been well-earned.
Olympia Dukakis gives a very daring performance as Flora, whose arrogant sense of celebrity privilege often covers the fearful dying woman underneath.
It would no doubt be tempting for an actress to try to soften this old monster’s hard edges earlier in the action, but it is the slow melting away of Flora’s toughness and narcissism that makes the final scenes so powerful (like so many people in her position Flora doesn’t really believe that illness and death have moved into her plush, secluded Italian seaside compound).
Kevin Anderson has an equally daunting challenge as Chris, who is so poetic and so sensitive to the suffering of other people that he could come off more like a theatrical conception of goodness than a flesh-and-blood man. Chris and Flora have an amusingly prickly relationship in the first half of “Milk Train” but when the woman finally gives in to her spiritual crisis, the last few scenes between Dukakis and Anderson are incredibly moving.
Wilson has given “Milk Train” a terrific physical production, with another striking and sensual physical environment created through Jeff Cowie’s set design, David Woolard’s costumes and the lighting of Rita Rui.
The play demands that Flora’s compound be wired for sound — the woman wants to be able to dictate her memoirs from her bedroom to her secretary Blackie (Maggie Lacey) whenever she feels moved to spout off about the past — and John Gromada does a spectacular job with the very complicated sound design.
“Milk Train” brings to a close the ten-year Williams festival that Wilson has overseen — one of the most ambitious and most successful projects any U.S. regional theater has attempted during the last decade.
By presenting the classics as well as lesser-known works like “Milk Train,” Wilson has given us unique insights into one of the greatest American theater artists.
In his program notes, the director writes, “I wanted to produce these plays because I love them — their poetry, their humanity, the profound empathy for the outcast, and the unexpected laughter at life’s absurdities. The plays all portray our desire for connection, our longing to fit in despite our need to fly, and our battle against time.”
Williams upped the ante on all of his preoccupations in “Milk Train” so it is a perfect finale to Wilson’s magnificent project.
(For ticket information on the remaining performances, visit www.hartfordstage.org)
When she moved from England to Westport seven years ago, novelist Jane Green spent a few years in limbo in terms of the American publication of her books — we were always one book behind Green’s British readers so it took a while for her work to reflect the writer’s new life.
No doubt fearing the loss of her homeland readership before she gained a foothold in the U.S., the books Green wrote in Connecticut for the first few years were a hybrid of the life she left behind and what she was learning in Westport.
Green’s humor and empathy gained her many fans in this country while she was still dealing with life in London, but the novel that will appear in stores on June 17 — “The Beach House” (Viking) — is a full-fledged “American” story that will probably introduce the writer to a whole new audience (and how lucky they are to have a nine-novel backlist to dig into).
Set on Nantucket, the novel is about a 65-year-old woman named Nan who loves her life — and her rambling beach house — but faces major changes when she finds out most of her investment nest-egg has been lost in some unfortunate hedge-fund accounts.
Nan decides to take radical action and start renting rooms out for the summer. Nan’s helper and surrogate daughter Sarah realizes the rental idea is probably just a temporary holding action — the rundown house is worth far less than the beachfront land it sits on — but she introduces the older woman to such Internet rental godsends as craigslist.
Soon, a disparate group of strangers — men and women — start moving into the beach house and we get to see the creation of an alternative form of family that is deeply appealing as presented through the very wise orchestration of Jane Green.
In the space of only 340 breezy pages, “The Beach House” introduces a large group of major characters, including Nan’s grown son Michael who comes back from New York City to escape a disastrous affair with his married female boss.
In her earlier novels — which more or less stuck to whatever age group Green was in at the time she was writing — it was possible to assume that there was a slightly disguised version of the novelist among the single girls, young marrieds and harried 30ish moms she wrote about in books like “Mr. Maybe,” “Bookends” and “Babyville.”
“The Beach House” contains so many characters of so many different backgrounds — and the 65-year-old Nan is such a strong center — that the book feels more like the product of intelligent observation than disguised autobiography.
In the Nantucket beach house and the wise and funky Nan, Green has created a wonderful East Coast variation on Anna Madrigal and the Barbary Lane apartment house that Armistead Maupin created in his San Francisco-set “Tales of the City” novels. Let’s hope Green might follow Maupin’s path and return to Nan and her friends in future books.
(Jane Green will be signing “The Beach House” on June 17 at 7 p.m. at the Westport Banes & Noble and June 18 at the Fairfield Borders. A feature on Green and the novel will appear in the Connecticut Post’s Arts & Travel section on June 22.)
Art house movie operators are complaining about the dearth of foreign and indie hits so far this year — the churn rate on these low profile pics has been mind-boggling, with many of them opening and then closing almost immediately in New York and Los Angeles.
It’s almost a waste of time for me to rush to pre-opening New York press screenings of these small offbeat films because I know they’ll never have a theatrical engagement in Fairfield County (my review in the newspaper can wait until the picture appears on DVD).
There are lots of interesting foreign movies out there — including “The Edge of Heaven” which opens tomorrow at the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford — but the audience support has been minimal.
A few weekends ago, I saw the terrific Norwegian film “Reprise” at the Sunshine Cinema in downtown Manhattan shortly after it opened and the house was pitifully empty (this despite an all stops pulled out Manohla Dargis rave in The New York Times).
The current foreign film situation makes the success of the Jean-Luc Godard festival at the Film Forum on Houston St. all the more remarkable.
For the past month, the non-profit art house has been hosting what it calls “Godard’s 60s,” consisting of films from the 77-year-old director’s incredibly prolific (and influential) first decade of moviemaking.
The festival has included appearances by New Yorker writer Richard Brody, whose smart biography and career assessment of Godard — “Everything is Cinema” — has just been published by Metropolitan Books.
In the 1960s, Godard was never as popular with U.S. audiences as his fellow French New Wave director Francois Truffaut, but his politically charged and very confrontational films seem to be striking a strong chord with the current generation of movie-mad young people.
Film Forum scored individual hits with restorations of “Contempt” (1963), “Pierrot le Fou” (1965) and “Masculin Feminin” (1966) over the past few years, setting the stage for the highly successful month-long festival that ends today with a showing of “Vivre Sa Vie” (1962).
A few months ago, I hosted a screening of “Pierrot le Fou” at the Avon Theatre and was stunned to meet a Westport high school student who was working on a paper on the director’s work (another teen in the crowd had a virtually complete collection of Godard’s work on DVD).
Godard’s combination of political and consumerist satire is especially sharp in “Weekend” (1967), which I saw at the Film Forum a few weeks ago in a packed house with an audience that was mostly 30 and under.
The film follows a horrible, status symbol-addicted Paris couple who drive out into the countryside to make sure they are still in the will of the woman’s rich — and perhaps dying — mother.
Godard shows us a society in which people drive like demons, pulling guns on other drivers who get in their way, and blowing their stacks (and their car horns) when ghastly fatal car crashes cause mammoth back-ups.
In the movie’s most famous scene, Godard presents a 10-minute tracking shot of the couple driving past a huge traffic jam in which no driver will allow them to merge into the slowly moving line of cars. It could have been filmed on the Connecticut Turnpike today.
The kicker in all of this traffic mayhem comes when the couple’s car is totaled in a spectacular fiery pile-up (above). All the (mercifully uninjured) woman cares about is the loss of her expensive designer fashion accessory.
Godard’s sickest jokes and most astute social observations are as fresh today as they were 40 years ago.
Film Forum’s hit festival ends today, but thanks to Netflix and other wide-ranging DVD suppliers, you can create your own Godard festival whenever you’d like.
A New York actress pal of mine told me one of the few things that kept her sane last summer when she was laid up with an injury was spending hours watching George W. Bush gaffes on YouTube.
Another friend — who shares my fascination with the JFK assassination — went tumbling into the Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald archives on the same Web site and warned me that if I went in I might never come back out.
Have you developed the YouTube addiction that seems to be spreading as more people have better Internet hook-ups with great images and sound?
Last weekend, I decided to see what I was missing and did a little bit of YouTube surfing and before I knew what hit me three hours had passed and I was buzzing with a contact high.
I went from seeing what was available on my favorite 1960s era Italian actress Monica Vitti (above) — which was a LOT — to checking out the scorching Gore Vidal-William F. Buckley Jr. debates during the ABC coverage of the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention to watching a long and schmaltzy conversation between Charlie Rose and Jeanne Moreau…
You get the picture.
Instead of spending two or three hours watching a TV show or a DVD, I created my own crazy TV special — and don’t even get me started on my excursion into the 9/11 conspiracy theory videos.
Perhaps there is a faddish element to YouTube addiction, but as more people have Internet displays that are as big and as sharp as anything else on their home entertainment screens I can’t help but think that more entertainment hours will be spent exploring the seemimgly limitless sound and image archives of this astounding Web site.
Where else would I have found out that — several years ago — Nicole Kidman and Brit pop star Robbie Williams had done a sensational mock 1960s Hollywood video of their “Something Stupid” duet?
If you haven’t seen it, by all means check it out.
Over the weekend, I found it tough to sit through the new DVD edition of the 2007 theatrical flop “The Walker,” but I can’t disagree with the Roger Ebert quote on the packaging — “Paul Schrader’s best film since ‘Affliction.’”
Of course, Schrader only made one film between “Affliction” and “The Walker” — the virtually unreleased 2002 Joseph Fiennes-Ray Liotta obscurity “Forever Mine” — so Ebert’s comment isn’t exactly the highest praise he could give the Woody Harrelson vehicle.
“The Walker” seemed hopeless to me almost from the moment it started because of the bizarre casting of Harrelson as a gay Washington, D.C. socialite who squires married women when their husbands aren’t available (the term “walker” came into fashion in the 1980s after Jerry Zipkin became famous for taking out many of the married ladies in Nancy Reagan’s social circle).
I don’t know anything about Harrelson’s sexual orientation, but he is completely wrong in the role of a Truman Capote-style bitchy male who is both prized and feared for withering putdowns of women who don’t meet the effete man’s standards of fashion and decorum. Harrelson seems to be attempting to channel Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in “Capote” but the result is a fey disaster.
This is not to suggest that “The Walker” could have been terrific with a more suitable star. The movie feels like a rewrite of Schrader’s first big hit as a director, the 1980 “American Gigolo.” Like the prostitute anti-hero played by Richard Gere in that movie, the Harrelson character Carter Page has very fragile social cachet based on his looks and his ability to make older women feel well taken care of.
When Carter is embroiled in a murder — involving one of his rich and connected ladies — he quickly learns that he has no real social safety net.
Just as Schrader used the Los Angeles “gigolo” as a means of exploring the society around him, Carter is meant to give us an entrée into D.C. high life and social politics circa 2008.
But Harrelson’s performance seems almost completely unreal and his romantic/sexual relationship with a Mapplethorpe-style photographer (played by Moritz Bleibtreu of “Run Lola Run”) is preposterous. Harrelson looks pained in the one scene requiring Carter to kiss his live-in lover, so there is zero sexual chemistry in a relationship that is central to the plot.
Two of Carter’s ladies — played by old pros Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin — fire off a few amusing lines, but this is a glacially paced film in which the only real mystery is: What was Schrader thinking when he cast Harrelson?
Everyone expected the big-screen version of “Sex and the City” to do well over the weekend — excerpt, perhaps, for a few snarky critics (i.e. The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis) — but few thought it would end up in the number one box-office slot with a staggering $55.7 million gross.
“This is the first real surprise of the summer,” industry box office analyst Paul Dergardebian told the Associated Press yesterday in one of the major understatements of the season.
On Friday, I read one industry projection of $27 million for the opening weekend of “Sex” and another for $35 million (both of which would have placed it well under the $46 million earned by “Indiana Jones” between Friday and Sunday).
Despite the fact that it was R-rated and skewed female, “Sex and the City” knocked the PG-13 young male-oriented “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” out of the top spot after only one week.
For a super-expensive George Lucas-Steven Spielberg collaboration to lose its hold on the coveted spot so quickly is a devastating development for the two powerful moviemakers (another summer movie that no doubt cost less and was much less anticipated — “Iron Man” — was able to hold on to the number one position for two weeks last month).
Some of the “surprise” over the huge success of “Sex” is rather surprising to me because of the obvious wide-spread interest in the film in the days just before the debut of the spin-off of the HBO series.
Virtually every woman I spoke with — and every gay man I know — said they intended to see the movie as soon as it opened.
At the midnight screening I attended Thursday, the manager of the theater told me “Sex and the City” sold double the number of tickets the similar midnight sneak preview of “Indiana Jones” had sold a week earlier.
The continuing popularity of the “Sex and the City” series is obvious, from the enormous sales of the rather expensive complete DVD set — all over the world — to the way that fans cite dialogue (and costume changes) from favorite episodes. With the possible exception of “Seinfeld,” I don’t know of another contemporary TV situation comedy that has inspired such devotion.
Expect to see more non-CGI entertainment slated for prime summer opening dates in years to come, along with at least a few more big-screen adventures of the “Sex and the City” ladies.