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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Godzilla (1998), directed by Roland Emmerich

Godzilla - Dean Devlin

Terrific monster movie that is both fun and funny, with a pleasing cast of characters and an effective interpretation of Godzilla. Panned by critics -- most famously by Roger Ebert, who is lampooned in the film -- many of whom saw too many similarities to Jurassic Park in its effects and probably didn't want to offend Spielberg by enjoying it. Matthew Broderick is very good as a happy man in not always happy circumstances and Jean Reno plays the surprising role of a French agent with amusing aplomb. Action-packed and exciting, with a clever twist in the middle that keeps Godzilla himself from becoming boring. Simply one of the best.

Get Yourself a College Girl (1964), directed by Sidney Miller

Get Yourself A College Girl [Remaster] - Mary Ann Mobley, Joan O'Brien, Nancy Sinatra

Rock and roll movie featuring, among others, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, and The Standells. And Nancy Sinatra as a married co-ed who spends nearly the entire film shacked up with her husband in a ski lodge, appearing periodically in different lingerie. Early feminist effort that has the star, Mary Ann Mobley, singing the title tune, with lyrics that promote the desirability of college women on the basis of their allegedly superior knowledge of s-e-x. Not very entertaining despite all this, but worth it for Jimmy Smith performing "Comin' Home Johnny" and Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto performing "The Girl From Ipanema."

Hold On! (1966), directed by Arthur Lubin

Hold On! - Sam Katzman, James B. Gordon

A boy wants to fall in love. An actress wants to be famous. And the kids of American astronauts want to name the new Gemini rocket "Herman's Hermits." And I thought the 60s were radical.


But, then, there never was anything radical about Herman's Hermits. That's "Herman," Peter Noone, and four other guys whose names are probably one of those Trivia Crack questions nobody ever gets right. Including me, and I own more than one Herman's Hermits album, one of which is the soundtrack for this film. For the record, they are Karl Green, Keith Hopwood, Derek Leckenby, and Barry Whitwam. They're all in this movie, though they rarely speak other to remind Herman that he's the leader and that's his job.


Shelley Fabares plays the girl Herman falls for. Her performance is like a breadcrumb in the past of Christine Armstrong of Coach, featuring some of the same mannerisms. She even gets to sing a song.


Since I mentioned a soundtrack, that begs the question whether there is any reason to see the film. Now hang on; gimme a minute to think. To be honest, this is harmlessly entertaining fluff, with a good bad joke and one truly funny line, and a gaggle of go-go girls to goad you into a nostalgia trip.


But if you like Herman's Hermits and you can't play vinyl anymore, it's foot-tappingly fun. Story goes that the film was going to be named after a different song, but then somebody realized that "A Must to Avoid" probably wasn't a message they wanted to send to the moviegoing public. The natural title might have been "Make Me Happy," but that's Fabares' song. 


Oh, well, they're all good songs. Come to think of it, that is pretty radical.

Recent Facebook Trending News

Green Bay Packers players "completely addicted" to  [The Settlers of Catan] board game, tight end says


Civilization without the slaughter. Nah, I want to kill people. But I understand the addiction, with video if not board games. I feel fortunate not to be a video game junkie, but I have had intermittent obsessions. Civ 5 was one, and I am anxious for the release of Civ 6. Then there was Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 – Uprising. (And, yes, I absolutely fell in love with Yuriko.) Then, contrary to my wish for violence, there was The Sims 2. And since learning that Sims 4 is supposed to be more like 2 than 3 (which I didn't play long because I didn't care for it), I am now thinking about that one, too.



Country singer, veteran responds to Seth Rogan's "American Sniper" comment


Not Rogan's comment that interests me, but Craig Morgan's fabulously ignorant response, which reads in part, "I'm sick and tired of people like you running your mouth when you have no idea what it takes for this country to maintain our freedoms. If you and anyone like you don't like it, leave." I'll tell you what I'm sick and tired of, people like this who (a) see the world in black and white, (b) condemn others who don't, and (c) know so little about the country they served that they think dissent itself is grounds for emigration, rather than one of the foundations of American life -- you know, one of those freedoms this guy allegedly fought for. Grab your marbles, dude, and go home to mommy.



"Medal of Honor recipient responds to Michael Moore's "snipers were cowards" comment


I don't know where this has gone after the initial comment, but the quotation is interesting: Moore doesn't say "snipers were cowards," he says, "We were taught snipers were cowards." Potentially an enormous difference. That aside, we get another response from another veteran who doesn't know what the hell he was fighting for. Now, to be fair, if Moore really does think snipers are cowards, then he, too, is sadly simple-minded on the subject. A sniper is a military unit and no different from a pilot who drops bombs or a captain who shells an inland target.  Aren't submarines the snipers of the sea? Are their crews all cowards? This isn't Gor, where technology is limited and hand-to-hand combat is about the only choice we have. How cowardly would we be if we didn't use our brains, even in warfare?

The Frozen Ground (2013), directed by Scott Walker

The Frozen Ground - Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Jane Fleming, Mark Ordesky, Jeff Rice

In the Venn diagram of The Frozen Ground and Things That Interest Me, here's the shaded overlap: Nicolas Cage, Serial Killer. That's an awfully short list. Good script, exciting story, plausibility -- none of these get anywhere near the middle.

That last one -- plausibility -- is particularly vexing as this film is based on the real-life manhunt for serial killer Robert Hansen, who kidnapped, tortured, raped, and then hunted women in the Alaskan wilderness, finally killing them. One of his victims, Cindy Paulson, escaped, and her eyewitness account became the first big break in the case. Her influence on this film is significantly less positive.

The truth of the matter is that the actual events weren't exactly made for Hollywood. Investigators were only beginning to realize they were dealing with a serial killer when Paulson escaped. Hansen's M.O. involved flying the women to his cabin; Paulson escaped, in fact, while he was loading the plane. Police were then able to take her to the airport, where she identified Hansen's Piper Super Cub. After breaking Hansen's alibi for the night of Cindy's escape, police searched his home and eventually discovered the murder weapon, as well as a map on which Hansen had helpfully marked the locations of the graves of his victims. Hansen confessed. Truth, as it happens, isn't always stranger than fiction.

Writer-director Scott Walker fixed that, though, by speculating what would have happened if 18-year-old prostitute Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) not only teamed up with lead detective Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), but remained a Hansen target to boot. I'm not speculating when I tell you that what happens is predictable nonsense.

All the faux excitement generated by Paulson's peril is wrapped up in a script that wanders aimlessly between Halcombe, Hansen, Paulson, and a couple of ancillary characters -- Paulson's pimp and a hired thug -- as if searching for its genre. Is it a police procedural, a thriller, or a redemptive tale of a brooding cop and a tragic hooker? You know it's confusing when the man who murdered at least 17 women isn't even the bad guy of the climax.

So back to my diagram. Let's put a check next to Cage, who outperforms the script. But "serial killer" -- we're going to have to cross than one out. I think Walker must have been so determined not to glorify Hansen -- he barely shows us anything the man actually did -- that he ultimately made a movie about someone else.

She Done Him Wrong (1933), directed by Lowell Sherman

She Done Him Wrong - William LeBaron, Harvey Thew, John Bright

Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them.



This movie simply doesn't age. When I first saw it, as a college student, it was already 50 years old. Now it's another 30 on top of that, and it's just as bawdy, just as delightful as ever.


The main attraction, of course, is Mae West, whose overt sexuality would be comical if she didn't back it up. But back it up she does. As Lady Lou, a singer in a Gay Nineties saloon and dance hall, West is intelligent, witty, poised, and possessed of enough self-confidence to power ten self-esteem symposiums. She's the ultimate bad girl, and it's no wonder every man who meets her is desperate to have her.


A very young Cary Grant plays Captain Cummings, who runs the church mission next door. He wants to save Lou's soul; she wants to corrupt his. Meanwhile, a girl tries to commit suicide, a counterfeiting ring kicks into operation, a criminal escapes, and a woman is stabbed to death. All in just 66 minutes.


It's tempting to call the plot a throwaway, nothing more than a vehicle for West's double entendres and one-liners. That, however, would be like dissing the straight man in a comedy routine. The movie works as well as it does because the two are so perfectly matched. You'd think, given all that happens, that the movie is fast-paced, but it isn't really until the very end. On the other hand, it doesn't need to be: West is racy enough on her own.


She Done Him Wrong is the shortest movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture. It was right up there with Little Women, the good one, starring Katharine Hepburn. But that's the way of it, isn't it? Sentimentality is fine, but sometimes you just need to laugh.

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013) by Keith McCloskey

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident - Keith McCloskey

Mountain of the Dead scares me silly. Each page adds to the horror as suspicion turns to certainty: author Keith McCloskey did all his research for the book online. Oh, I have no reason to doubt the claim that he actually traveled to Russia, but to what end is a mystery. He was given no special access, for example, to any material not readily available otherwise. He might just as well have stayed home at his computer. Which is exactly what I would encourage his potential readers to do.

I might assign some value to his "research" if he merely saved me the time of tracking down a number of websites with interesting information. What he clearly discovered, however, is that most of the sites in question regurgitated the same facts as all the others. Those facts being in short supply, he had to find another way to fill out his book, and he picked the laziest possible solution: to turn the book into a survey of all the deranged theories surrounding the case.

The case is this. Nine skiers/hikers went into the Russian wilderness, camped on the side of Kholat Syakhl ("Mountain of the Dead" in one translation, the not quite so forbidding "Dead Mountain" in another), and died. The manner and circumstances of their deaths are what give this tale its otherworldly sheen. For reasons unknown, they appear to have exited their tent by knifing through it from the inside, calmly walked about a mile down the mountain -- wearing no shoes and grossly inadequate clothing -- split into two groups, and froze to death. The bodies belonging to one group were otherwise more or less uninjured while the others included significant internal damage and strange injuries such as missing eyes and a missing tongue.

The eyes and tongue tell you where McCloskey is going. One's first thought regarding them must be predation, but that's much too prosaic for this guy: he doesn't even bother to address the issue. He lumps them together with broken ribs and fractured skulls to suggest the fantastic, quickly dismissing the fact that the condition of the bones just might have something to do with where the bodies were found; to wit, at the bottom of a ravine. He dismisses this due to a lack of external injuries to account for them. Which begs the question, how unusual is this really? I, for one, would like to know. McCloskey, however, doesn't want to tell me.

So after the initial description of the events leading up to the tragedy and then its immediate aftermath, the bulk of which can be found on Wikipedia and other easily accessed websites, about all McCloskey has left are those crackpot theories. We get them all: UFOs, paranormal activity, and secret government slash military tests gone awry. He does provide a brief rational explanation: an avalanche followed by "paradoxical undressing," a known condition that causes a freezing victim to actually remove their clothing. But he admits he isn't buying that; he falls into the military testing camp.

Interestingly, in spite of his own preference, he gives the most space to a ludicrous story of a man who once encountered (he says) floating lights that reacted to the human glance. I suppose even McCloskey found this bit of fantasy too much to take so he lets the man tell it in his own words. It reads like a very bad movie treatment as this clown unabashedly embellishes his supposed and rather benign experience with pressure beams and precise details of how the hikers met their various ends. He ends the tale with warnings and advice to us all in case we should ever encounter this deadly phenomenon. To call this or any of the viewpoints expressed in this book "theories" is disingenuous to say the least.

That said, the case itself is certainly bizarre, the more so, of course, because there are so few facts. With what is known to date, I can't even begin to figure it out. I can understand the hikers cutting their way out of their tent if it was covered by a small avalanche, but I cannot fathom them then abandoning it along with all their supplies. I suppose if they were fearful of more snow coming down the mountain, they may have instinctively turned tail, but then why the seemingly orderly march down the slope? It truly makes no sense.

So, yeah, the case is a real campfire story. The book, on the other hand, is merely fuel for the blaze.

Facebook Trending News for Jan. 16, 2015

Elon Must says he is building a test track for high-speed transportation system

Described in the article as a "train-in-a-tube." But only people under 30 can ride it.

Oilfield services company announces cut of nearly 9,000 jobs amid plummeting prices

Way to turn a positive into a negative, Schlumberger.

Former "Chuck" actor to star in NBC's superhero drama series relaunch, "Heroes Reborn"

First Twin Peaks, then Avatar, now Heroes. Make something new, people!

Musician, producer and former Runaways manager dies at 75

This would be Kim Fowley, who also produced The Murmaids song "Popsicles and Icicles." Anybody? Anybody? But The Runaways -- everybody remembers them, right? If "Cherry Bomb" isn't the greatest girls' lib song ever, I don't know what is. (Of course, it's also terrifying.) Your work lives on.

Tommy (1975), directed by Ken Russell

Tommy - Ken Russell, Ken Russell, Robert Stigwood

I find it difficult to reconcile this film with a kind and loving God. My mistake, really; I mean, I watched it sober and drug-free.

When I was in high school, I was part of a triumvirate in which each of us had a clear favorite in rock music. For me, it was the Beatles, for another Led Zeppelin, and for the third, The Who. I credit the third, Samantha, for "giving" me The Who, along with endless hours of enjoyment. This enjoyment included Tommy, their "rock opera," though even then it was spotty entertainment. The songs I liked best -- "1921," "Sally Simpson," "Pinball Wizard" -- I liked very much and still do, but most of the rest depended a great deal on the operatic "concept," which was much more persuasive in the abstract. Ken Russell has shown that adding visuals to the music does nothing to improve its eloquence.

Perhaps it isn't a fair test. The Ken Russell visual is a surreal, flamboyant thing. In one scene late in the film, Ann-Margaret, who plays Tommy's mother, rolls around on the floor while first a thick column of soap suds then a mighty stream of liquid chocolate flows out of a television set and washes over her. I suppose it's all a metaphor for the selfishness and greed that have sullied her soul, but it goes on forever, and anyway, the last time she was truly clean was during the Overture. It is, in a word, excessive, a condition that afflicts the entire film.

Still, given the source material, you'd think that there'd be some good music anyway. In fact, there's surprisingly little. Russell made the decision to have his actors sing and that took care of that. Far and away the best few minutes of the film are during "Pinball Wizard," when, in a casting masterstroke, Elton John sings the song wearing mile-high boots and over-size glasses. Mr. Russell, meet Mr. John. The two of you were made for each other.

For those who don't know, Tommy relates the fall and rise of a young deaf, dumb, and blind boy who bedevils his parents until he brings them fame and fortune as a pinball champion. Shortly thereafter, he is miraculously cured, becoming a sort of guru to thousands; his teaching method involves eye-shades, ear-plugs, and "you know where to put the cork," as well as endless Pinball machines. Tommy, however, wasn't born lacking his senses. He loses them one night when he goes into shock after witnessing his step-father kill his biological father, a soldier everyone thought had died in the war. The story is absurd, of course, but it has a certain pathos because Tommy, unlike his family, is a genuinely decent fellow.

In addition to Elton John, the movie features Eric Clapton as a preacher whose cult worships Marilyn Monroe, Tina Turner as the "Acid Queen," a prostitute who tries to free Tommy with an iron maiden that injects LSD, and Jack Nicholson, who plays the doctor who diagnoses Tommy's affliction as psychosomatic but would rather be jumping his mom. Oh, and Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie, a slimy pedophile who molests Tommy.

Sound like your kind of movie? Go for it, if it does. In outline, the story actually works. It's the phantasmagoria surrounding it that I didn't care for.

Facebook Trending News for Jan. 15, 2015

Singer shares nude polaroids taken during Bangerz Tour with V magazine for music issue

Miley, Miley, Miley. The photos are as twangy as her accent used to be. Question: what do nude photos of Miley Cyrus have to do with music?

Release date for 1st of 3 film sequels delayed until late 2017, director James Cameron says

I don't know what it was about the original Avatar, but it's the only movie we've watched in 18 years of marriage that, when it was over, my wife said, Let's watch it again -- now. So we watched it again, despite the fact that I was a lot less enthusiastic about it. I liked it, but more in a 3-star kind of way than a 5-star kind of way. Well, a sequel will be worth it if my wife likes it as much. But, really, what are the odds of that?

Company [Target] says it will exit Canada market, close 133 stores

When even the French reject Tar-zhay...

Manhattan lawmaker introduces bill to ban cat declawing in New York State

I'm on board with that. Can they ban cute outfits next?

"Loose Women" panelist says she listened to her son have sex and was "dead impressed"

Too bad she's dead inside.

Facebook Trending News for Jan. 14, 2015

"Kyle MacLachlan to reprise role as Special Agent Dale Cooper when show returns"

I never saw all of the original episodes. Bizarre is fine, but it helps to have a point. Not a lot of interest in this.

"HLN commentator invites rapper 2 Chainz on show to debate marijuana legalization"

No idea who 2 Chainz is. No idea who Nancy Grace is, for that matter (she's the "commentator"). And what's HLN? Is my cluelessness a reason not to legalize marijuana? No, seriously, I really don't know how I feel about legalization. In my few brushes with pot I've seen the mellow version of laid back and I've seen the damn scary version of laid back. But it's probably something that needs to be tried.

"Talk show host responds to pastor who criticized her for celebrating 'lesbianism'"

Ellen can be funny. The clip is certainly funny (http://ellentube.com/videos/0-ma4x1e5a/). But I do believe that Hollywood has an agenda where gays are concerned. It's the same agenda that gives us so many sequels and remakes. Money. I wish people would figure that out.

"'Glee' actress says showering every day is a 'white people thing' on 'The View'"

Having experienced being without heat in a cold environment, I think showering every day is a warm people thing.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), directed by Michael Bay

Transformers: Age of Extinction - Michael Bay, Don Murphy, Tom Desanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Ian Bryce, Brian Goldner, Mark Vahradian, Steven Spielberg, Ehren Kruger

Set an infinite number of monkeys pecking away at an infinite number of keyboards and eventually one will produce War and Peace. Put one monkey in a film studio and what you'll get is Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Extinction, by the way, never sounded so good.

But, you know, I can't really review this movie because -- as it dragged endlessly through its 165 minutes of meaningless, mind-numbing mayhem -- I kept drifting off to sleep.

Ok, so maybe I can review the film.

I just don't want to.

Seduction of the Innocent (2013) by Max Allan Collins

Seduction of the Innocent - Max Allan Collins, Terry Beatty

It was in the author's afterword and acknowledgements that I learned that the heroes of Seduction of the Innocent, Max Allan Collins' roman à clef about the comic book controversy started by Dr. Fredric Wertham with his 1954 book of the same name, had been featured in two previous novels. With this third book, Collins says, his originally envisioned trilogy was complete. Not that he wouldn't mind writing more books about Jack and Maggie Starr, if readers asked for them. How many readers that would take is anyone's guess. He admits, however, that the publisher of the first two decided against the third, so I'm guessing it wouldn't be many.

Seduction comes to us thanks not to readers but to Hard Case Crime. Hard Case Crime seeks to bring back the pulp excitement of the paperback original, both by reprinting older works and by publishing newer ones. Without HCC I may never have discovered Michael Crichton's John Lange books. I like HCC and I like their lurid covers. And I say good for them that they allowed Collins a venue for Seduction. Even if his original publisher probably wasn't crazy.

Fortunately this trilogy is thematic rather than narrative; I don't think I missed much not having read the previous two. All are centered on various controversies in the comics world: who really owned Superman, the Al Capp/Hal Fisher fued, and now Dr. Wertham's crusade against comic books that ultimately resulted in the creation of the self-censoring Comics Code Authority.

Fredric Wertham is here named Werner Frederick, and fans of comic book history will have fun matching real people and titles to those in this book. Mad, for instance, is Craze, and Bill Gaines is Bob Price; Batman becomes Batwing; and so on. Collins tells us that his caricatures are ultimately fictional, but at least in Wertham's case, the representation is clearly wish-fulfillment as well, as Collins takes one pot-shot after another at the good doctor.

"Good" doctor? Within the last couple of years, a study was made of Wertham's research and scientific rigor as it related to comic books. Let's just say that Wertham, it seems, took a few shortcuts on his way to his conclusion that comic books should be removed from the hands of children under 15. But let's also "remember" that Wertham established the Lafargue Clinic in Harlem, where he specialized in helping black teenagers. Collins reluctantly cops to this fact of Wertham's good nature, but he can't resist undermining it: at one point in the book, in a scene set in the clinic, he has Werner look about "dismissively." In his afterword, he admits that Wertham "made important contributions to the Civil Rights Movement." These, however, he says, are "understandably" overshadowed by what he had to say...about comic books. But he's right: the naked quest for money will always trump a social conscience. Especially when writers like Collins fixate on the one and "dismiss" the other.

I'll be honest and say that I don't view Wertham as a villain even regarding the comics controversy. In fact, I think many (including Collins) who have read Wertham's book have missed the point entirely. I think maybe Wertham did. The point isn't that comics are (or were) so awful, but that society needs to take a hard look at itself and its values and how it promotes those values. This, to take an example ripped, as they say, from today's headlines, is exactly what cartoonist Joe Sacco has done in this strip about the Charlie Hebdo killings. I applaud Sacco and I applaud Wertham, both of whom are telling us that real freedom comes with a price, that of responsibility. And that things are never quite so simple as the knee-jerk crowd would have us believe.

One of the funny things about Collins' book -- which is certainly sometimes intentionally funny, but this isn't one of those times -- is the way Collins takes Wertham to task for trying to manipulate people into seeing things a certain way while all the while doing exactly the same thing to his readers. The action is set in the 50s, but the heroes are plucked straight from our own 20-teens, being just as liberal and open-minded and tolerant (even of the Mob, though not, of course, of domestic abuse) as they can be. Jack Starr is Mike Hammer, but decidedly soft-boiled. And yet it's all part of that funny brand of liberalism that tells us women are men's equals, so long as they're beautiful, stacked, and sex-crazed.

Anyway, the story is about what happens when one of the players in the comic imbroglio gets murdered. It's lightly written, a fast read, and kind of fun if you're into comic books. But it is a crime novel: don't let it mug you.

Things to Come (1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies

Things To Come - 1936 - Alexander Korda

Somebody ought to remake Things to Come as the horror movie it is. Written by none other than H.G. Wells, based on his book The Shape of Things to Come, it's a movie chock full of stilted dialogue and cardboard characters. But that isn't what I'm referring to. No, this is a message movie, and the message is so abhorrent that it could redefine the term "scary movie."

Gary Westfahl, identified by Wikipedia as a science fiction historian, wrote, "Things to Come qualifies as the first true masterpiece of science fiction cinema, and those who complain about its awkward pace and uninvolving characters are not understanding Wells's message, which is that the lives and actions of individuals are unimportant when compared to the progress and destiny of the entire human race."

I'm thinking the remake could use this quotation as part of a psychological warfare campaign designed to drive the opposition insane.

Westfahl, in fact, gets everything wrong except Well's message. And this is interesting (if you'll allow me to speak for myself). The "first true masterpiece of science fiction cinema" can be none other than Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which predated this monstrosity by almost a decade. But what did Wells think of Metropolis? He hated it. With a passion. And what was its message? Basically the opposite of Wells'. It all makes me wonder if maybe Westfahl doesn't have a little fanboy in him.

But what he gets right -- surely that's enough. World war begins in 1940 and is still raging 20 years later. (Some say, See, Wells predicted the start of World War II with uncanny accuracy. They don't mention he not only failed to predict its end, he failed miserably to predict its outcome.) Then a new government appears. Calling itself Wings Over the World, it is run by scientists and engineers who want to bring peace to the entire world. Not, mind you, to stop all the killing, not to provide a better life for the common man, but simply so that the elite can pursue their pet projects without any nasty emotional interruptions. Succeeding in this endeavor, they build a new world, and by 2036 they are ready to shoot a couple of people around the moon. Literally. Using a "space gun." (Fancy prediction, that.) And the interesting thing is, in this brand new world of rationality and peace, the populace still revolts. They do so, of course, because their leaders have made no provision for the happiness of their citizens (really makes one appreciate that whole "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" business). Indeed, they care so little of individuals that even their astronauts are taking a 50-50 chance of survival. They couldn't wait long enough to push their knowledge and abilities past a simple coin toss.

It's fine to sit back all smug and proud of the fact that humankind has gone from the caves to the moon in only a few hundred thousand years. But, really, what monster is driven by this? "Is it this?" the chief scientist (criminal) asks. "Or that? All the universe? Or nothingness?" Or is it, I wonder, not a binary proposition, you idiot.

What I like about the movie is its unabashed setting of "Everytown," some of the special effects and visual design, and a dark-haired woman (Sophie Stewart) who comes on the screen dressed half like a dominatrix and half like a harem girl. "I don't suppose any man has ever understood any woman since the beginning of things," she says. Well, hell, girl, you're a walking contradiction; what do you expect?

Marnie (1961) by Winston Graham

Marnie: The Book That Inspired the Hitchcock Classic - Winston Graham

Man, I was smooth. I told my friend, Look, all you have to do is grab it and put it in your pocket like it's no big deal. Like this. We were halfway out of the store and all was quiet when my friend said, That was easy, wait here. The key word, of course, is "halfway" out of the store. Soon as we hit the mall, some big lug was on our tail and we were toast. It's possible I smarted off to the guy a bit. It's possible that's why he called the cops. It's certain that an hour later, we were both downtown in a detention cell. What are you in for? this scary tough kid asks. Stealing a necklace, I say. Oh, man, you should be home watching Popeye. I didn't ask what he was in for.

This is more or less how Marnie begins her life of crime, with a minor theft at the age of ten. Thankfully, it's also where the parallels with my own life end. When we first meet Marnie, she's passing a cop who wishes her a good night. She wonders what he'd say if he knew what was in her handbag. Over a decade later, she's graduated to felony theft. Warrants have been issued for her arrest. But she doesn't mind: the warrants are all under false names in towns she's long since left behind. Now she's on the move again.

But this time she picks the wrong target, or the wrong man to work for. Mark Rutland, of Rutland's Printing, is a lonely widower whose wife died very young. Marnie captures his imagination. While it can't be said she encourages his attention, she doesn't entirely rebuff him either. It's enough for Mark to fall in love. When Marnie makes her move, Mark catches her. Believing he can help her, he coerces her into marriage. And that's when Marnie's uncomplicated, if criminal, existence comes to an end.

I didn't know until I saw the credits that Alfred Hitchcock's film was based on this novel, or any novel for that matter. Unlike many of the books his films have been based on -- Psycho, The 39 Steps, Strangers on a Train, to take those I've read myself -- this one doesn't seem to have come down to us with a reputation in its own right. I find this strange for two reasons. First, Winston Graham, the author, wrote over 40 books, including 12 in a series popular in Britain. Second, and more significantly, I think this book is better than the others I've read. Head and shoulders better.

Perhaps it has something to do with its genre. Where the other books are all considered thrillers, this one is classified as a crime novel. Whatever that is. I have to admit, if that was all I had to go on, I doubt I ever would have picked up this book. So let's make this a little clearer: Marnie is a psychological suspense story that happens to involve crime.

Not that the crime is incidental -- Marnie's M.O. is richly detailed. Watching her go about the business of ingratiating herself into a company, planning the heist, and then carrying it out is one of the pleasures of the book. But what really makes it enjoyable is Marnie herself, who approaches her "work" with a detachment and matter-of-factness that is both funny and frightening. She's pathological, but utterly charming. (She reminds me a bit of Julie Bailey, Cornell Woolrich's dazzling angel of vengeance in The Bride Wore Black.)

Of course, Marnie's crimes are only one manifestation of her mental condition. The other is her detestation of men. One leads to her marriage, the other threatens to destroy it. Though Hitchcock's film is, in terms of plot, remarkably similar to Graham's book, the two are unique in that their emphases are different. The movie pushes Mark into the foreground; the book, narrated by Marnie herself, keeps him at a distance -- though not quite far enough away to suit Marnie. And we can't help but sympathize with her. She was, after all, virtually blackmailed into marriage. But where the movie can be seen as a war for dominance, the book details a war of suppression. Mostly that means running away -- distancing herself from Mark, going out with his hated cousin and business partner -- but Marnie is too bright not to consider the implications of her lifestyle. As Graham drops one clue after another about the source of Marnie's derangement, we begin to sympathize with Mark, as well, or with his aim at least. This isn't about a man trying to tame a woman; it's about a woman discovering that she has a problem. And it's all played out against a tense backdrop of crime, jealousy, frustration, and intrigue.

With this book, at least (and now I'm curious about all those other books), Graham shows himself to be, like Hitchcock, a master of suspense.

Seven (1995), directed by David Fincher

Seven (Single Disc Edition) - Darius Khondji, Arnold Kopelson, Phyllis Carlyle, Gianni Nunnari, Dan Kolsrud, Anne Kopelson, Andrew Kevin Walker

Seven concerns the investigation of a series of murders linked to the seven deadly sins. We are told that the killer remains so long at large because he is especially clever, leaving behind no clues to his identity. I have a different theory. Seven is a dark film, figuratively but more importantly literally. I think the clues are there, but the police can't find them in the beams of their silly flashlights. Well, that and the fact that it shows a certain deficiency of mind never to have grasped the concept of the overhead light.

Of course, it's all in the service of mood and atmosphere and metaphor, but I find I prefer my metaphor with a few more photons. On the other hand, only in the darkness could some of the film's banal observations on life appear to be profound. "I sympathize completely," Detective William Somerset tells his partner, David Mills. "Apathy is the solution. I mean, it's easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It's easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It's easier to beat a child than it is to raise it." Is it? Somerset, supposedly cultured, well-read, and wise, comes off as jaded when in fact he is merely myopic. As Mills says, Just having a library card doesn't make you Yoda.

It helps enormously if you buy into the film's conceit that the detectives are working in Hell. In Hell, nothing much needs to make sense except as a form of punishment. In Hell, a man can kill five people in five days, each one meticulously planned to allow plenty of time for slow torture, and he can do this without attracting the eye of a single witness or leaving a single clue. In Hell, obviously, one never sleeps. Which is a bummer since it's always so damn dark.

Fortunately the actors are all quite good. Morgan Freeman as Somerset, Brad Pitt as Mills, and Kevin Spacey as...well, Kevin Spacey. Morgan certainly sounds good spouting all his nonsense. And the film has a few genuinely funny moments sprinkled about, as when Mills tires of the source material for the seven deadly sins -- books like Dante's Inferno -- and gets the Cliff's Notes versions instead. But it's all in the service of a story that gets its weltanschauung wrong. Here, apathy leads to crime. The reality is far worse: it leads to not caring about crime.