Crime Movies in the Queue: Dennis Lehane’s The Drop (2014)

the-drop-posterThis movie was previously called Animal Rescue, the title from Dennis Lehane’s short story from the Akashic collection Boston Noir, which he also editedWhile the title makes complete sense once you’ve seen the film, it could be a bit misleading in advance, because the subject matter is more centrally bad and not-so-bad people. Apparently 3 different puppies played Rocco, named after the Italian saint and patron of dogs, and they are deadly cute. If you’re sensitive to animals in peril, though the pooch starts in a tough place, I think you’ll feel okay with how this plays out. I’m glad they changed the title to The Drop, and since then, Lehane’s expanded the story into an entire novel to go with it and also got to make his debut outing as a screenwriter for the film.

Three days after Christmas, a lonely bartender looking for a reason to live rescues an abused puppy from a trash can and meets a damaged woman looking for something to believe in. As their relationship grows, they cross paths with the Chechen mafia; a man grown dangerous with age and thwarted hopes; two hapless stick-up artists; a very curious cop; and the original owner of the puppy, who wants his dog back. . . .

Boston-NoirI fear the movie’s release was a bit chilled by having the unfortunate distinction of being James Gandolfini’s last film appearance. (Maybe I’m wrong about that, and people flock for such reasons.) Gandolfini, as Cousin Marv, is very good, as are Englishman Tom Hardy as bartender Bob Saginowski (with a funny-pitched voice I liked) and Sweden’s Noomi Rapace as Nadia from the neighborhood (allowed to keep hints of her accent). Turns out another important character, Eric Deeds, was played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who is a Belgian, as is the director, Michaël R. Roskam, making his U.S. directorial debut. Unlike Lehane’s story, which was originally set in Boston (duh), the movie’s location moved to Brooklyn, which I think worked just fine. Hardcore, long-time Brooklynites might have quibbles, but having recently coped with seeing Coors on a “Boston” bar’s sign in Black Mass (also a recommended watch, but, um, NO), I’m feeling forgiving.

Lehane didn’t write the screenplay after his novel Mystic River, but director Clint Eastwood stayed very close to his source material. That meant lots of times when what was said wasn’t what was meant, where the simplicity of a statement was like the tippy-top of an unfathomably huge iceberg. The Drop is paced and told like that, too, a style which I really enjoy, because that’s what happens when people have painful enough history to speak in evasive shorthand about it. No one needs to say “As you know, when we did this thing at that place on such a date….” I always prefer mystery to be left in that kind of shared background, because it adds to the perceived import of whatever it was. Funnily enough, I think about what it meant that people at Hogwarts were so traumatized by the past they were afraid to speak Voldemort’s name. Bad times and bad people are like boogie men, and we can be afraid their names work like evocations. A life-changing moment or relationship may be reduced to “She left me.” or “He died by himself,” but that’s because we know words are insufficient. We barely sketch the outline for each other and require our shared humanity to fill in the rest of the significance.

The-dropThis movie is like that, told in hints and the looks crossing faces. The people in it are worth watching as they try to figure out who to believe, caught in situations where trust is in short supply. There are some darkly funny moments, too, and plot-wise, a couple of big surprises I really enjoyed. It was also nice to look at, because it was so regular. If they spent a lot of time masterminding a just-so production design, rather than just dropping into what is true-life for a lot of people, it didn’t look orchestrated. Having served my time behind the stick, Cousin Marv’s feels like a million local bars you could find anywhere across the country, and the streets and other interiors seemed that way, too. Even with genuine movie stars in it, the small, local ordinariness of it was very appealing. Experiencing a film less as cutesy, manipulative calculation and more just as being witness to a story can be a relief.

So, I’m recommending The Drop if you like such street-level crime dramas. The trailer gives a decent idea of the tensions at play, except the movie has much more quiet in it. It’s not relentlessly-paced, which makes the shocking scenes more dramatic and lets you know the characters and their lives better. So, add it to your queue, or tell me what you thought if you’ve seen it, too!

TV’s Hannibal: Gross, Perverse, Artistic. I Like It!

Mads Mikkelsen stars as the cannibal and serial killer Dr. Lecter in TV's Hannibal

Mads Mikkelsen as TV’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Based on Thomas Harris’s novels, the Hannibal TV series, created and produced by Bryan Fuller, is not for the squeamish. But I’m not. I just ask that gore be purposeful, be interesting, be done with care for what it causes and the consequences. Hannibal mines the rich inspiration of art that’s in the books and marries it with aesthetically inventive visuals, sharp but minimal dialogue, and great performances to make a show that doesn’t feel or look like any other. Dramatic, cultured, very close-up and personal, it meanders the deceptive byways of the human mind. As far as shows that could be considered mainstream horror, you can think of Hannibal as the other end of the axis that the also-unique Walking Dead occupies.

For me, the shock value of the usual red-dyed corn syrup wore off after, oh, maybe watching the already dated Toolbox Killer in high school. Most horror isn’t that horrible once you’ve seen a bunch, and when you suspect a new story is just graceless, hopeless, manipulative three-card monte, it can lose its appeal. I make an exception for trope-licious campy fun, sometimes great fun, as TV’s American Horror Story often plays in this sandbox. In my least favorite kind of horror, the effects of all the bizarrities and carnage have no cumulative effect on the characters. They could be stepping through the stations of Candyland for all it matters. That’s how you know the writer made the victims of cardboard, because not even their nearest and dearest seem to care. The slaughter-forget-repeat cycle isn’t that captivating.

But it’s not merely horror, because Hannibal is also a lawless serial killer. Whether his pursuers on TV are now retired, estranged, or recuperating, it’s their connections to law enforcement, FBI specifically, that brought them into contact with Dr. Lecter. This show is set before the events of the novel Red Dragon– seen in the movie versions Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002)–and the even later-set novel Silence of the Lambs, the basis for the 1991 movie of the same name. In the TV series, we’ve gotten to backward to see the FBI’s star-profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikklesen) for the first time. We have explored the earliest, dangerous, see-sawing interaction of hunter and hunted. Later, we know, the cannibal will perfect with profiler Clarice Starling a method of corruption which is in-development here with Will Graham. Now, in the show’s third season, Hannibal has escaped the U.S. after dramatically revealing himself as no ordinary psychiatrist-consultant to the feds. His pursuers, who are all now also profoundly wounded victims, are closing in. Which is exactly what he wants. What he craves.

I know this kind of fare is NOT to the taste of everyone among the WoM or our regular visitors, not by any means. However, I thought I’d make a stab (ha) at trying to explain the appeal of the form and of this show in particular. I’ve been doing weekly show recaps at Criminal Element. Each week, I try to explore at least one of the cultural or artistic elements raised in the episode with more detail as bonus info, if you will. The episodes you’ll notice are all named after courses or categories of cuisine. Season 1 was French, Season 2 was Japanese. This season, which takes place partially in Florence and Palermo, is appropriately Italian. So here are the links to those posts if you’re interested!

Hannibal 3.01: an “Antipasto” of Drains and Snails — more on comic opera Don Pasquale and the medieval torture device called the Catherine Wheel

Hannibal 3.02: “Primavera” Springs Will Graham — more on true-crime killer, Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence, and Botticelli’s painting Allegory of Spring

Hannibal 3.03: “Secondo” Means Choosing — more on ancient Rome’s meat apportioning and how Death’s Head moths and entomological imposters are used on screen

Hannibal 3.04: “Aperitivo” Whets the Bloodlust — more on the conspiracy to kill Caesar, mythological death goddesses, and John Donne’s sonnet “A Fever”

This will be the show’s last season on NBC, and credit to them for sticking so long with something so different. However, I have high hopes this quality show will be picked up by another network or streaming service. After all, it has a built-in base of passionate fannibals, and there’s a whole world of cuisine, art, architecture, and music left to explore!

Fidelity or Adultery? That is the Question

bed_frameI’ve come to a definite conclusion about the things I read and watch of late.  I find I’ve become increasingly uninterested in plots that include infidelity in a marriage. It seems so easy to me for characters to forget promises they’ve made and loyalty to a spouse to enjoy the secrecy and intrigue of adultery. The marriage bed is no longer sacred.

I know this happens in real life. My husband and I were part of a group of eight couples when we were newlyweds. Before we moved away from our hometown, there was only one other couple besides us still together. Nearly all of these marriages ended with adultery. One husband engaged in a work-place romance. Another friend lost her husband to her best friend. With another, the affair was between two men. I’m not foolish enough to think it never happens, but I am tired of seeing it as a gratuitous sex on the screen and between the pages.

I’ve been wondering if other people feel the same way. One thing I enjoy about murder mysteries is while the crime is often about passion, it can be passion about anything, not just love and sex.

I still enjoy romance novels, and I love the many mystery series I read. While John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport was a real lady’s man when he was single, he hasn’t been unfaithful to Weather since they married. Eve Dallas and Roarke value each other and their commitment too much to consider infidelity. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser adores Susan even though they have never married.

I also know I can choose the “hotness” of the books I read, but I’ve always enjoyed a variety of genres and books. I’m just tired of seeing adultery as a key plot element.

Anybody else thinking this way?


Okay. I know that’s not the correct ending for this famous movie quote, but I’ll be back with another post about making books into movies very soon, especially if I’m feeling lucky that day.

film-clipart-Movie-Clip-Art-1344.jpgFor now, let’s talk about famous lines that have become part of our everyday language, or as a recent article in The New York Time, “The Rapid Decline of The Movie Quotation,” put it, the lack of them. The writer of the article, Teddy Wayne, offers the opinion that movies from the last 15 years lack memorable dialogue. Some of it may be chalked up to bad writing and some to the way movies are now produced and distributed—anyone can watch them with the click of a remote rather than buying a DVD. And, the fact that a lot of millenials are using devices other than a TV for their viewing pleasure.

The article goes on to discuss that while they’re still making good moves, people are not just watching them as much. Instead, viewers are choosing other media, such as TV and Internet video with a better chance of quoting “The Wire” than they do of a current film.

So, since I haven’t had any of my books made into movies (yet), I don’t know if any of their phrases would be quotable. I’m hoping that if I build it, they will come. While I’m waiting, I’ll be inspired by the 50 best film quotes ever.

How about you? Any movie quotes you love or hope to write? Are you ready for your close up? Let us know.

P.D. James, “Queen of Crime” Novelist, Dead at 94


Author P.D. James, courtesy BBC.UK

P.D. James, the author of the introspective Scotland Yard poetry-writing detective Adam Dalgliesh novels, passed away on November 27, 2014. She was born Phyllis Dorothy James on August 3, 1920, in Oxford. She is survived by two daughters, Clare and Jane, and five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

By the age of 16, she knew she wanted to be a writer. Her first novel was published at age 42.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron (@Number10gov) tweeted on November 27, 2014: PM: Saddened to hear of the death of P.D. James, one of the UK’s greatest crime writers, who thrilled and inspired generations of readers.

Her 1992 dystopian novel “The Children of Men“, a futuristic look at a society in which mankind can no longer reproduce itself, was adapted into a film in 2006, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

Death PemberleyHer last novel, “Death Comes to Pemberley” (2011), is a sequel and homage to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” In 2013, it was adapted for a television mini-series in Britain.

Just over one year ago, the BBC printed the “PD James’s 10 Tips for Writing Novels.”

In The Globe and Mail, Author Louise Penny shares her thoughts on “Appreciation: How P.D. James changed my reading habits — and my writing.


P.D. James was interviewed for The Paris Review in Summer 1995 by Shusha Guppy.

Are you a P.D. James fan? What is your favorite novel of hers?

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

A Character by Any Other Name

I don’t know what your process is in naming character, but I put a lot of thought and research into it. I want to be sure my character’s name suits the personality, the family and background, and the growth process during the book. There are some great names from famous mystery writers that I tend to think will always be around.

ThinManNick and Nora Charles were the sophisticated investigators created by Dashill Hammett for his novel, The Thin Man. Who could forget this engaging couple and their adventures? They still show up regularly in crossword puzzles and on the old movie channels. I love their elegance and sharp wit when pursuing mysteries.


Agatha Christie has perhaps the most famous amateur sleuths with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. These mysteries were complicated and often filled with a large cast of characters who were all suspect.

An editor recently asked us to stop giving everyone in our small town names. She said there were too many people who readers needed to identify so we began saying thing like “the man who owned the hardware store” and “the librarian, who had been working in the school system for too many years.” This became a painful process for us because we’d gotten to know the people in the town, and we felt it took away a layer of the story that gave it more warmth.

OrientExpressI think I can safely say that Murder on the Orient Express is my favorite Christie book. It was a compelling story with a lot of double entendres and secrets. Going through the investigative process with Poirot while having everyone trapped on the train was fascinating. I do love that story and am equally fascinated with the movie. The cast was brilliant and gave excellent performances. There were so many characters it’s difficult to name them all here, but they had a connection with the American who was stabbed many, many times during the night on the train. The story unravels slowly and feels you with a strong sense of justice being done.

DeadlineOther characters I’ve appreciated through the years include Hieronymus Bosch, the dedicated LA cop created by Michael Connelly. I also enjoy J.A. Jance’s Joanna Brady and J.P. Beaumont, two very different people who solve crimes in their own way. As I mentioned before, Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, characters created by John Sandford are two of my absolute favorites. and who can forget Eve Dallas and Roark. I enjoy the futuristic element in these police procedurals.

I could probably go on for hours about great characters names like Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March will always be with me. I also enjoy The Five Little Peppers, and felt their names fit perfectly.

Mysteries will always be popular, and I always think about the name I’m using just in case it ends up being in crossword puzzles and movie references. I want to be sure it will look and sound good.

Share some of your favorite character names! I’d love to hear from you.



Edgar Allan Poe Festival in Riverhead, LI


The Riverhead Business Improvement District in Riverhead, Long Island is hosting its very first weekend-long Edgar Allan Poe Festival — an event five years in the making by the creative mind of Sal St. George of Medford, NY (who also created the Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson; the 19th Annual Charles Dickens Festival will be held this year from December 5 – December 7, 2014).

Activities began today, Halloween, from 3-7 pm, culminating with a parade. Simultaneous events will be held on Saturday, November 1, from 11 am to 6 pm (with a 5:45 double feature starring Vincent Price in The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum), and on Sunday, November 2, from 12 noon to 9 pm, with a fireworks display at 8 pm. A more detailed list of events can be found at

1410082724_pit and usher

Complimentary hayrides will be offered by the Riverfront from 12-3 pm on Saturday & Sunday. Free Witches Brew will be served to children at the Blue Duck Bakery Diner throughout the weekend.

According to, during the festival, nearly 50 live book readings will be held at over 15 locations, “from the Suffolk County Historical Society — which is hosting an official Edgar Allan Poe exhibit — to the Long Island Aquarium, which is unofficially extending Halloween a day by encouraging children to show up in costume at its Bats, Barnacles and Broomsticks party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.”

Many of the participating businesses can be located in the Riverhead Town Guide and Business Directory Map. The streets feature decorated lamp posts, each an entry into a festival contest.

Many thanks and congratulations to Sal St. George and the Riverhead Business Improvement District for the creation of such an impressive Edgar Allan Poe Festival.


Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Ebola Outbreak, Life Imitating Art


This is why we write, okay, one of the reasons we write.

Outbreak, the 1995 movie, smacked of truth. The fear of pandemics, the mutated viruses resistant to antibiotics from overuse, in particular, in intensive animal farming, for years we’ve heard and read about these medical concerns.

With the recent Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which is spreading at an unprecedented rate, one of the authors, either Laurence Dworet or Robert Roy Pool, was interviewed stating this was exactly what they had in mind when they wrote the story.

In Outbreak, a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba, outbreaks in Zaire and later in a small town in California. Sound familiar?

With regards to the real outbreak, researches say “The genomic sequencing also offers hints as to how the Ebola “Zaire” strain at the heart of the current outbreak — one of five types of Ebola virus known to infect humans — likely ended up in West Africa in the first place. Researchers said the data suggests that the virus spread from an animal host, possibly bats, and that diverged around 2004 from an Ebola strain in central Africa, where previous outbreaks have occurred. The New York Times, September 28, 2014.

Of course the movie veers into a sinister plot, but Its primary settings are government disease control centers and the CDC. We’ve had our share of mis-steps by the CDC and the Texas hospital.

When we write, we reflect the human condition, and/or foretell the future. The nearly two decade old movie, Outbreak, is a great example of both.





Happy Birthday, Raymond Chandler

On July 23, 1888, Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1895, after the divorce of his parents, Chandler moved to London with his mother. From 1900-1905, he attended Dulwich College, and later traveled to Paris and Germany to study languages. In 1907, he returned to England and became a naturalized British subject.

jpg_bridge401In 1912, Chandler returned to America; he lived briefly in St. Louis and Omaha before moving to California. In 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian Army. In December, he arrived in Liverpool, England, and was later sent to France. In June 1918, he transferred to the Royal Air Force, where he began aviation training school. In February 1919, he received a discharge from the Army and travelled along the Pacific coast.

In 1919, Raymond began a love affair with a married woman, Pearl Cecily “Cissy” Pascal, 18 years his senior. Cissy divorced her husband and married Chandler in February 1924.

jpg_copybook3In 1932, at age 44, Raymond lost his job as an oil company executive, due to drinking and absenteeism. He decided to become a detective fiction writer. Before writing his first novel, The Big Sleep (published in 1939), Chandler wrote pulp fiction short stories, published in The Black Mask and Dime Detective.

Chandler developed Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel. He also wrote an essay, “The Simple Art of Murder.” chandlerart

Check out the extensive list of Chandler’s works, including TV, radio, and film, on

bigsleeppocketThe Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, was released in 1946. The plot was drawn from two of his short stories: “Killer in the Rain” and “The Curtain.” It also incorporates a bit of “Finger Man.”

Chandler worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter, contributing to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), the film noir classic The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).

In December 1954, Cissy Chandler died. At age 70, Chandler died from bronchial pneumonia on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, San Diego, California.

Author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, resurrected Raymond Chandler’s famous private eye, Philip Marlowe (with permission from Chandler’s estate), in his 2014 novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde.

In 2015, Raymond Chandler will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

Disney Magic, Disney Media, Disney Money

Ah, Disney magic? Disney money? Watching Saving Mr. Banks recently, and blogging about it, got me to thinking about that particular combination for the first time in some years. Here’s why.

If you are my age, and had an average American childhood with a big console television in the living room, you grew up watching Disneyland every week.DL

Then I went to library school, specialized in work with children and re-read many of the classic stories.Yikes.The Disney version was often not even close to the original and often different in ways that were not improvements. Plus,this was the end of the protesting 1960’s, when Disney was considered a crass corporate monster supporting outdated cultural values. In some circles, anyway.

All this makes it hard to think about Disney the company with complete clarity or critical ability. However, it used to be part of my job. I worked in research at a global consulting firm where my specialty was the media and entertainment group. I needed to know everything possible about Disney as well as the other industry giants.

Then I was sent to an offsite meeting right there at Disneyworld. Belly of the beast? (We stayed here. My employer didn’t do anything half way ).

We were there to explore a new industry development, multimedia, and get a behind the scenes look at what Disney was doing.

And here is where it all becomes a kind of split-personality experience. The professional I was then easily recognized Disneyworld as a giant machine dedicated to separating people from their money. And they did it extremely well. They made it fun, they made it easy, and boy, did they make it profitable. I knew all about how they had underground tunnels so staff never, ever, ever, appeared on the street only partly costumed. In fact, a cashier looked me right in the eyes and said, “What costume?” Yes, that was Disney’s much admired training program in action right in front of me.

But along with me, the cynical industry observer me, was the little girl I was, who never got to Disneyland, and me, the mom who never took her (no longer little) girls. As I watched the very small children hugging the Cinderella mice and Robin Hood the fox, it was perfectly clear to me they thought the characters were the real thing.

RobinSome kind of magic was indeed happening here.

I even felt it a bit myself when I flew past Big Ben on the Peter Pan ride.


It is deeply fake and calculated. And it is deeply real and kind of wonderful. How do I deal with this intellectually? Is it possible?

Certainly it’s true that some Disney versions of children’s classics are pretty bad, but even in the worst of them, there are often moments of beauty and imagination. I am particularly fond of the singing flowers in Alice in Wonderland.


And the best of them are the best in class, period. What child ever forgets the talking mirror in Snow White, the pumpkin-to-magic- coach in Cinderella or the dancing flowers,flying horses and hippo ballerinas of Fantasia? pegasusf

So here is my confession: that same summer I took my family to Disneyworld for a few days before daughter #1 left for college. We had a good time, too.

And at the same time, I am very glad the protesters won and Disney did not get to theme park Gettysburg. What a bad plan that was. Some places do not need Disney magic and some places should not be turned into Disney profit centers.