Book Review – FUZZ (1968) by Ed McBain

FUZZ (1968) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 205pp
First published in 1968
© Ed McBain, 1968
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2463-9
Blurb: The detectives of the 87th Precinct are confronted with a call – clearly a crank call – that threatens the life of the city’s parks commissioner unless a ransom of $5,000 is paid. The deadline soon passes and the parks commissioner is shot in the head as he leaves a rock concert. Soon, another anonymous warning follows and the deputy mayor is blown up in his Cadillac. The next target is the young, charismatic Kennedy-esque mayor who is on the hit list of what can only be called a serial assassin. It is up to the hardworking detectives of the 87th Precinct to find the shrewd murderer before he can strike again.
Comment: Ed McBain returns with the 22nd book in his 87th Precinct series following a two-year break. The book is a mix of detection, thrills and comedy, with the latter adding a delicious flavour to the mix. McBain is not afraid to show the fallibilities of his detective heroes and here they are often made to look inept by their master-criminal nemesis the Deaf Man, returning after his appearance in book number 12, The Heckler (1960). Three separate cases here dovetail through happenstance into a chaotic finale. For once the solution is not achieved through procedural detective work, it is merely resolved through blind luck. The Deaf Man’s scheme is clever and is only undone through his own vanity and bad timing. The dialogue is amongst the best in the series, notably in the sidebars: the station being decorated apple green by two painters who trade verbal barbs with the detectives; Meyer looking to sue an author who has used his name for the title of his book. The comedy is broadest in a stakeout in Grover park with Kling and Meyer dressed as nuns; Willis is a sleeping bag with female detective Eileen Burke; Genero disguised as a blind man with his guide dog who ends up shooting his own leg. That McBain juggles these elements, both serious and comic, so well is a testament to his skills. The result is one of the strongest books in the series, which would be adapted for the big screen four years later.

Film Review – THE GREY (2011)

THE GREY (2011, USA, 117m, 15) ***½
Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
dist. Open Road Films (USA), Entertainment Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Open Road Films / Inferno Distribution / Scott Free Productions / Chambara Pictures / 1984 Private Defense Contractors; d. Joe Carnahan; w. Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers); pr. Joe Carnahan, Jules Daly, Mickey Liddell, Ridley Scott; ph. Masanobu Takayanagi (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Marc Streitenfeld; ed. Roger Barton, Jason Hellmann; pd. John Willett; ad. Ross Dempster.
cast: Liam Neeson (Ottway), Frank Grillo (Diaz), Dermot Mulroney (Talget), Dallas Roberts (Henrick), Joe Anderson (Flannery), Nonso Anozie (Burke), James Badge Dale (Lewenden), Ben Hernandez Bray (Hernandez), Anne Openshaw (Ottway’s Wife), Peter Girges (Company Clerk), Jonathan Bitonti (Ottway (5 years old)), James Bitonti (Ottway’s Father), Ella Kosor (Talget’s Little Girl), Jacob Blair (Cimoski), Lani Gelera (Flight Attendant), Larissa Stadnichuk (Flight Attendant).
This tense survival thriller is a solid vehicle for Neeson. Alaskan oil refinery workers, including sharpshooter Neeson, are flying home for a much-needed vacation. A violent storm causes their plane to crash in the frozen wilderness. As the small group of survivors trek southward toward civilization and safety, Neeson and his companions must battle mortal injuries, the icy elements, and a pack of hungry wolves. Shot in a washed-out colour palette, which adds further harshness to the already unforgiving environment. Carnahan directs his actors skilfully to produce naturalistic and believable performances. The constant threat of wolf attack plagues the group as the savage creatures pick the survivors off one by one. This is helped by the chilling sound design, which adds considerably to the foreboding atmosphere. One or two weak CGI effects and the familial flashbacks occasionally break the relentless suspense, but with Neeson at his grizzled best, this remains an absorbing watch for the most part.

Film Review – TWISTER (1996)

TWISTER (1996, USA, 113m, PG) ***½
Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Constant c Productions; d. Jan de Bont; w. Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin; pr. Ian Bryce, Michael Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy; ph. Jack N. Green (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. Mark Mancina; ed. Michael Kahn; pd. Joseph C. Nemec III; ad. Dan Olexiewicz.
cast: Helen Hunt (Dr. Jo Harding), Bill Paxton (Bill Harding), Cary Elwes (Dr. Jonas Miller), Jami Gertz (Dr. Melissa Reeves), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Dustin Davis), Lois Smith (Meg Greene), Alan Ruck (Robert ‘Rabbit’ Nurick), Sean Whalen (Allan Sanders), Scott Thomson (Jason ‘Preacher’ Rowe), Todd Field (Tim ‘Beltzer’ Lewis), Joey Slotnick (Joey), Wendle Josepher (Haynes), Jeremy Davies (Laurence), Zach Grenier (Eddie), Gregory Sporleder (Willie), Patrick Fischler (The Communicator), Nicholas Sadler (Kubrick), Ben Weber (Stanley), Anthony Rapp (Tony), Erik LaRay Harvey (Eric (as Eric LaRay Harvey)).
A white-knuckle ride following a group of storm chasers, brilliantly filmed by de Bont and his crew with notable sound design and visual effects work. During the approach of the most powerful storm in decades, university professor Hunt and her underfunded team of students prepare a ground-breaking tornado data-gathering device, which was conceived by her estranged husband, Paxton. When Hunt tells Paxton that the device is ready for testing — and that their privately funded rival Elwes has stolen the idea and built his own — Paxton re-joins the team for one last mission. Echoes of Howard Hawks amidst the natural destruction make this worth seeing. Hunt and Paxton are likeable leads and spar well off each other. They are given a witty script and an assortment of oddball supporting characters as their “professional” group. Gertz is charming as Paxton’s delightfully naive fiancée, who gets caught up in the adventure. The story may have more than its fair share of cliches, but the set-pieces are excitingly staged if a little far-fetched in the lack of injuries Hunt and Paxton sustain amongst the flying debris.
AAN: Best Sound (Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Kevin O’Connell, Geoffrey Patterson); Best Effects, Visual Effects (Stefen Fangmeier, John Frazier, Habib Zargarpour, Henry LaBounta)

Book Review – EIGHTY MILLION EYES (1966) by Ed McBain

EIGHTY MILLION EYES (1966) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 172pp
First published in 1966
© Ed McBain, 1966
“The Dear Hunter” © Pyramid Publications, 1965
“Eighty Million Eyes” © Popular Publications, 1965
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2462-4
Blurb: When top TV comic Stan Gifford died there were plenty of witnesses – 40 million viewers, plus the studio crew and audience. Detectives Meyer and Carella had never had it so good, but when pretty Cindy Forrest undressed for bed, there was no one to watch – except her attacker.
Comment: The 21st book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series sees McBain interweaving two separate plotlines – a traditional whodunnit mystery and a psychological thriller. The nature of the book betrays the origins of these plotlines as two separate shorter pieces published in magazines the previous year. The mystery plot, written with a light touch, concerns the poisoning of a TV comic and detectives Carella and Meyer hunt down leads through the questioning of suspects and the forensic evidence. The thriller plot has a darker and more sinister tone with a dangerous stalker menacing Cindy Forrest (who appeared as the daughter of one of the victims in Ten Plus One) and Kling assigned to protect her. Both cases work to simultaneous and satisfying conclusions. The dialogue is breezy and the writing confident, but the stitched-together nature of the stories is evident as there is no linking theme or crossover between the cases. That said this remains an excellent example of McBain’s versatility, even within the same book.

Film Review – THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004)

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004, USA, 124m, 12) ***
Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Centropolis Entertainment / Lions Gate Films / Mark Gordon Productions; d. Roland Emmerich; w. Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (based on a story by Roland Emmerich); pr. Roland Emmerich, Mark Gordon, Thomas M. Hammel; ph. Ueli Steiger (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. Harald Kloser; ed. David Brenner; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Claude Paré.
cast: Dennis Quaid (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall), Austin Nichols (J.D.), Arjay Smith (Brian Parks), Tamlyn Tomita (Janet Tokada), Sasha Roiz (Parker), Ian Holm (Terry Rapson), Robin Wilcock (Tony), Jason Blicker (Paul), Kenneth Moskow (Bob), Tim Hamaguchi (Taka), Glenn Plummer (Luther), Adrian Lester (Simon), Richard McMillan (Dennis), Perry King (President Blake), Mimi Kuzyk (Secretary of State).
Even global warming advocates may baulk at the situations presented in this far-fetched, but surprisingly enjoyable disaster epic. After climatologist Quaid is largely ignored by U.N. officials when presenting his environmental concerns, his research proves true when an enormous “superstorm” develops, setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world. Trying to get to his son, Gyllenhaal, who is trapped in New York with his friend Rossum and others, Quaid and his crew must travel by foot from Philadelphia, braving the elements, to get to Sam before it’s too late. The game and likeable cast keep their faith in the lame script, delivering awkward dialogue without a metaphorical wink to the audience. Emmerich loves destroying his iconic buildings and landmarks and here he and his effects team take their carnage to impressive set-pieces in LA and NYC. He asks an awful lot of his audience to suspend their disbelief, but for those willing to do so this is a fun ride.

Book Review – DOLL (1965) by Ed McBain

DOLL (1965) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 158pp
First published in 1965
© Ed McBain, 1965
ISBN: 978-0-3300-24823-5
Blurb: She was a living doll–until she was slashed to death. Detective Steve Carella wants Bert Kling on the case, even though Kling is making enemies of everyone. Then finally even Carella has had it with Kling, and suddenly the detective is missing and suspected dead. The men from the 87th Precinct go full tilt to find the truth. But they really need to find is a little doll–the little doll with all the answers.
Comment: The 20th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series finds the author returning to his trademark approach, but with a new twist. Here, he weaves elements of psychological terror into the procedural narrative, with Carella captured and being forced into drug addiction and becoming a sexual plaything by a psychotic woman. The doll of the title is both the key to the mystery and a metaphor for Carella’s incarceration. The tension builds as Kling and Meyer race against time to locate their colleague, whilst investigating the murder of a model. The book can be seen as marking the beginning of a new chapter in the series with McBain pushing further at the boundaries of sensationalism – a theme he would often return to in later books. Whilst the move was bold it somehow seems to slightly cheapen the material and, as a result, the book is not wholly successful.

Film Review – DANTE’S PEAK (1997)

DANTE’S PEAK (1997, USA, 108m, 12) ***
Action, Adventure, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures / Pacific Western; d. Roger Donaldson; w. Leslie Bohem; pr. Gale Anne Hurd, Joseph Singer, Marliese Schneider; ph. Andrzej Bartkowiak (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. John Frizzell; ed. Conrad Buff IV, Tina Hirsch, Howard E. Smith; pd. J. Dennis Washington; ad. Francis J. Pezza, Thomas T. Taylor.
cast: Pierce Brosnan (Harry Dalton), Linda Hamilton (Rachel Wando), Jamie Renée Smith (Lauren Wando), Jeremy Foley (Graham Wando), Elizabeth Hoffman (Ruth), Charles Hallahan (Paul Dreyfus), Grant Heslov (Greg), Kirk Trutner (Terry Furlong), Arabella Field (Nancy), Tzi Ma (Stan), Brian Reddy (Les Worrell), Lee Garlington (Dr. Jane Fox), Bill Bolender (Sheriff Turner), Carole Androsky (Mary Kelly), Peter Jason (Norman Gates), Jeffrey L. Ward (Jack Collins), Tim Haldeman (Elliot Blair), Walker Brandt (Marianne), Hansford Rowe (Warren Cluster), Susie Spear Purcell (Karen Narlington (as Susie Spear)).
This effects-driven disaster movie sees Brosnan as a volcanologist who convinces Dante’s Peak town mayor (Hamilton) and the unbelieving populace that the big one is about to hit and they need to evacuate immediately. When Hamilton’s two children (Smith and Foley) go up the mountain to get their stubborn grandmother (Hoffman), Brosnan and Hamilton must rescue the kids and grandma before the volcano explodes in a shower of molten lava and ash. The visual effects work is excellent and the many scenes of chaos and destruction are well constructed. Alongside this, Brosnan and Hamilton make engaging leads whose relationship grows through the story. Once the eruption gets underway character development takes second place to the non-stop action. There are some weaknesses and an occasional lack of logic and plausibility in the mechanical script, but for those willing to go along for the ride there is still plenty to enjoy here.

Book Review – HE WHO HESITATES (1965) by Ed McBain

HE WHO HESITATES (1965) ***½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 157pp
First published in 1965
© Ed McBain, 1965
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2593-7
Blurb: Outside the 87th Precinct a stranger stands in the falling snow. A big man with big hands, Roger hesitates: He knows he should go in and tell a policeman about what happened the night before; about Molly, the homely girl he met in a bar and brought back to his rented room. But then again… The snow falls on the city. Pushers, pimps, and working stiffs come and go. Roger tries to make up his mind. And every second that he hesitates takes him one step farther away from the 87th Precinct station, as another second ticks away on an innocent woman’s life…
Comment: The 19th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is an interesting diversion for the series after the stale Axe. Here McBain tackles the psychological ambiguities inherent in Roger Broome, a salesman who lives with his mother and struggles to control his homicidal impulses. Although written in the third person, the story is told solely from Roger’s point of view and we only see the detectives through his eyes as he contemplates turning himself in. As a change of direction, albeit temporary, this novel maintains interest throughout and some tension is built when Roger finds Amelia, who he falls in love with. The will-he or won’t-he kill her conundrum gives the story its impetus as Roger restrains his impulses and pushes himself to own up to the murder of Molly, a girl he met in a bar. McBain would return to his procedural approach for his next book, Doll.

Film Review – THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974, USA, 165m, 15) ****
Action, Drama
dist. Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Irwin Allen Productions; d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant (based on the novels “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson); pr. Irwin Allen; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp (DeLuxe | 2.39:1, 2.20:1 (70mm version)); m. John Williams; ed. Carl Kress, Harold F. Kress; pd. William J. Creber; ad. Ward Preston.
cast: Steve McQueen (Chief O’Halloran), Paul Newman (Doug Roberts), William Holden (Jim Duncan), Faye Dunaway (Susan), Fred Astaire (Harlee Claiborne), Susan Blakely (Patty), Richard Chamberlain (Simmons), Jennifer Jones (Lisolette), O.J. Simpson (Jernigan), Robert Vaughn (Senator Parker), Robert Wagner (Dan Bigelow), Susan Flannery (Lorrie), Sheila Allen (Paula Ramsay (as Sheila Mathews)), Norman Burton (Giddings), Jack Collins (Mayor Ramsay), Don Gordon (Kappy), Felton Perry (Scott), Gregory Sierra (Carlos), Ernie F. Orsatti (Mark Powers), Dabney Coleman (Deputy Chief #1).
A fire breaks out in a state-of-the-art San Francisco high-rise building during the opening ceremony attended by a host of A-list guests. McQueen plays the overworked fire chief who along with the building’s architect (Newman) struggles to save lives and subdue panic while a corrupt, cost-cutting contractor (Chamberlain), son-in-law to builder Holden, tries to duck responsibility for the shortcuts he took that caused the disaster. Guillermin sustains the tension throughout this big production disaster movie, which along with producer Irwin Allen’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, is the best example of the 1970s disaster genre and needed the funding of two studios- Fox and Warner. A stellar cast – led by Newman and McQueen – adds considerably to the familiar elements. The photography and production values are first-rate and are enhanced by an excellent grandiose score from Williams. The action sequences, directed by Irwin Allen and photographed by Joseph F.Biroc, are effectively staged. It was Jennifer Jones’s final film.
AA: Best Cinematography (Fred J. Koenekamp, Joseph F. Biroc); Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress, Carl Kress); Best Music, Original Song (Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for the song “We May Never Love Like This Again”)
AAN: Best Picture (Irwin Allen); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Fred Astaire); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William J. Creber, Ward Preston, Raphael Bretton); Best Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Herman Lewis); Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (John Williams)

Book Review – AXE (1964) by Ed McBain

AXE (1964) **½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1975, 141pp
First published in 1964
© Ed McBain, 1964
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4410-8
Blurb: Eighty-six-year-old George Lasser was the superintendent of a building in the 87th Precinct until just recently. Unfortunately, his tenure ended in the building’s basement with a sharp, heavy blade of an axe in his head…There are no witnesses, no suspects, and no clues. The wife and son? They’re both a little off-kilter, but they have alibis. Just when Carella and Hawes are about to put the case on the shelf, the killer strikes again. Now the detectives are hot on the trail of a man crazy enough to murder with an axe.
Comment: The 18th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is a little lacklustre after the excellent Ten Plus One. McBain seems short on ideas and the mystery elements fail to engage. By now the author was slowing his series output from three novels a year to one and he lost some momentum as a result. This particular mystery is wrapped up very quickly after following the usual dead-end leads – indeed the book is remarkably short, even for McBain at 141 pages. This being McBain, though, there is still much to enjoy in the dialogue and familiar characters, but ultimately this is a rare example of a master of his craft off his game.