In the Life of Duty: A Cop For The Killing (1990, directed by Dick Lowry)

When an undercover narcotics operation goes wrong, a veteran cop (Charles Haid) is killed.  While the cop’s killer goes on trial, the members of the undercover squad struggle to deal with their feelings about what has happened.  The head of the squad (James Farentino) struggles with how much emotion he can show while still remaining a leader.  As his ex-wife puts it, he’s so busy staying strong for everyone else that he hasn’t been able to deal with his emotions.  Meanwhile, the dead cop’s partner (Steve Weber) has the opposite problem and starts to take dangerous risks on the job.  When it looks like the killer might get a plea deal from the district attorney, both Farentino and Weber are forced to come to terms with Haid’s death and their own feelings of anger and guilt.

In the early 90s, there was several “In the Line of Duty” films made for NBC.  They were all based (often loosely) on true stories and they dealt with members of the law enforcement who died while on the job.  The best known of these was probably Ambush in Waco, which went into production while the Branch Davidian siege was still ongoing.

A Cop For The Killing was the second of the In The Line of Duty films.  Unlike the later films in the series, it didn’t deal with a nationally-known case.  Instead, it just focused on one squad of cops and how the death of a member of the squad effected them.  With its ensemble of familiar television actors and Dick Lowry’s efficient but not particularly splashy direction, it feels more like a pilot than an actual movie.  Even though this film features the cops opening up about their feelings, there’s not much to distinguish it from other cop shows of the period.  If someone digitally replaced Steven Weber with Fred Dryer, it would be easy to mistake A Cop For The Killing for a two-hour episode of Hunter.  As with all of the In The Line of Duty films, there are a few scenes designed to show the comradery of the members of the squad but it again all feels too familiar to be effective.  Before Charles Haid dies, he and Steven Weber hang out at a bar and wrestle.  After Haid dies, Weber hangs out at a strip club that’s safe for prime time.  Judging from 90s television cop shows, undercover detectives were solely responsible for keeping most strip clubs profitable.

The cast is adequate.  Farentino is believable as the emotionally withdrawn commander.  Charles Haid makes the most of his limited screen time.  Tony Plana plays a smug drug lord who smiles even when he’s being booked.  It takes a while to adjust to Steven Weber playing a serious role but his courtroom meltdown is the movie’s highlight.  In The Line of Duty: A Cop For The Killing may not have led to a television series featuring Farentino and Weber taking down the bad guys but it did lead to another In The Line of Duty movie that I will take a look at tomorrow.

Book Review: “My Ox is Broken!” Roadblocks, Detours, Fast Forwards and Other Great Moments from Tv’s ‘the Amazing Race’ by Adam-Troy Castro

I will be the first to admit that I probably watch too much reality television.

Of course, I will also defend myself by saying that I don’t watch as much as I used to.  I limit myself now.  The Bachelor, the Bachelorette, and Bachelor In Paradise are the only dating shows that I still watch and I have to admit that I find them less and less interesting with each passing season.  (Some of that, to be honest, is because I cringe whenever I see people talking about the “Bachelor Nation.”  Just because I watch the same show as you doesn’t mean that I want to come over to your house and watch you get drunk on box wine.)  I still watch Survivor but I have yet to watch any episodes of the Hulu Kardashian show.  The only reason that I recently watched Selling Sunset was because I was checking out the shows that had been submitted to the Emmys.  I haven’t really been emotionally involved with Big Brother for a while now, though I do still write about it because I love my readers.

That said, I still absolutely love The Amazing Race and I make no apologies for that.

The premise behind The Amazing Race has always been a simple one.  Teams of two are sent on a race around the world.  During each leg of the race, they have to complete tasks before they can continue on their journey.  At the end of each leg is a pit stop.  Finish first and you’ll get a prize.  Finish last and you’ll probably be eliminated from the race.  Each season has featured little tweaks to the formula but the basics have always remained the same, which is one reason why The Amazing Race‘s fans have remained loyal to it for over 22 years.

What is the appeal of The Amazing Race?  It’s more than just seeing who wins and who loses.  It’s seeing how the teams, who always start out very confident, handle being outside of their comfort zone.  I’ve lost track of how many athletic, cocky teams were eliminated from the race because they failed to properly communicate with their taxi driver.  How many teams have gone from being in first place to being dead last just because their flight was delayed?  The most recent season of the Amazing Race was actually put on hold due to COVID quarantines.  Filming stopped in 2020 and then resumed over a year later, with the remaining teams returning to their last pit stop.  The Amazing Race is unpredictable and it takes exactly the right mix of athleticism, intelligence, confidence, and luck to survive it.  The Amazing Race is about skill and communicating and seeing the world and I absolutely love it.  A good deal of the Race’s popularity is also due to host Phil Keoghan, who actually seems to be sincerely invested in the racers and their journey.  That’s quiet a contrast to most reality competition hosts.  Just as snarky Jeff Probst was the perfect host for Survivor (or, at least, he was before he decided to get all weepy and sincere these past few seasons), Phil Keoghan is the perfect host for The Amazing Race.

My Ox is Broken! is a perfect companion to The Amazing Race.  Admittedly, the book was published in 2006 and, as a result, it only covers the first 9 seasons of the Race.  But those were some truly great seasons and reading the book today is a wonderful way to relive the excitement of Rob and Amber going from dominating Survivor to nearly winning The Amazing Race, Colin and Christie narrowly losing the fifth season, and the dysfunctional couples who made up the sixth season.  Author Adam-Troy Castro takes a look at everything that made those first 9 seasons so much fun and he’s also honest about the show’s occasional missteps.  Full of recaps, interviews, and lists (you know how much I love lists!), this book is an essential for anyone who loves the Race.

Scenes That I Love: Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta Perform You’re The One That I Want From Grease

I just read that Olivia Newton-John passed away earlier today.  She was 73 years old.

Here she is, performing You’re The One That I Want with John Travolta at the climax of 1978’s Grease.  No matter what else you may think about this film (and, to be honest, it’s not one of my favorite musicals, just because of the way that director Randal Kleiser framed most of the dance numbers), you can’t deny that both Olivia and Travolta poured their hearts into this climax.

Film Review: Minamata (dir by Andrew Levitas)

In Minamata, Johnny Depp plays Eugene Smith, a real-life photographer who found fame taking pictures for Life Magazine.  Taking place in 1971, the film opens with Smith famous but burned out.  He spends most of his time in his run-down apartment or walking the streets of New York.  His camera is always with him, a tool of both his art and a symbol of his detachment.  Smith can capture the world in a photograph but he’s still not sure that he wants to be a part of it.  Smith is outspoken, eccentric, and ultimately a bit of an idealist who hides behind a cloak of cynicism.

When Smith is asked to come to the Japanese city of Minamata so that he can photograph the effects of Mercury poisoning on the citizens, he agrees to do so.  Armed with only his camera and aided only by his translator, Aileen (Minami), Smith discovers a community that has been ravaged by environmental pollution.  Smith tries to bring the story of Minamata to the world, despite the efforts of one of Japan’s largest corporations to silence him.

As far as films go, Minamata isn’t bad.  It feels a lot like a throwback to the old social problem films of the late 70s and the early 80s.  Watching the film, it was easy to draw comparisons to similar films like The China Syndrome, Silkwood, A Civil Action, Erin Brockovich, and even Promised Land.  Like the characters at the heart of those films, Eugene Smith is an unlikely crusader but when he sees a heartless corporation destroying lives, he feels that he has no choice but to act.  The film’s narrative momentum occasionally sputters and there are a few too many scenes of Smith haranguing his editor but the film’s heart is in the right place.  Johnny Depp gives a surprisingly sincere performance as Eugene Smith, playing him as someone who is a bit of a natural screw-up but who still wants to make the world a better place.  The film’s best scenes are the ones in which Smith tries to convince the camera-shy villagers to allow him to document what’s happening to them.  Minamata is at its best when it just allows Depp (as Smith) to interact with other people.

Of course, by this point, Minamata is probably best known for the drama that went on behind-the-scenes.  Minamata was filmed in 2019 and made its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival in February of 2020.  Distribution rights were eventually purchased by MGM and it was originally slated to be released in 2021.  However, after Amber Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse, MGM took the film off of its schedule.  Due to the bad publicity surrounding Depp, it appeared that the film would be buried.  Depp’s fans reacted by voting for Minamata to win the Oscars Fan Favorite contest.  Though Minamata ultimately came in third place, that’s a good showing for a film that hardly anyone had seen and which hadn’t even been distributed in the United States.  The victory of the Snyder Cut may have gotten all the attention but Minamata‘s strong showing served to remind Hollywood that, despite the accusations, Johnny Depp still had a strong fanbase.

It’s tempting to say that Minamata got its release due to the outcome of the Depp/Heard libel trial.  It was actually released on Hulu while the trial was still going on.  Though Minamata is probably destined to be mostly remembered as a footnote in Oscar history, it is a film that shows that Johnny Depp can still give a good performance when he has the right material.

Music Video of the Day: Seasons In The Abyss by Slayer (1990, directed by Di Puglia Gerard)

Yes, that is Slayer rocking out at the base of the Sphinx.

For their very first music video, Slayer traveled to Egypt.  At the time the video was shot, Iraq had just invaded Kuwait and the world was on the verge of war.  Despite all of the tension in the region, the members of Slayer said that they were warmly received by both the citizens of Egypt and the American soldiers who were preparing for Operation Desert Storm.  The Egyptian government was so eager to show that it wasn’t anti-American that it allowed Slayer access that the band might not have otherwise been given.  At the same time, back in the United States, the Satanic moral panic was still in force and Slayer was being accused of leading its fans into lives of sin and decadence.  Slayer was promoting diplomacy while Tipper Gore was still playing records backwards.


Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 8/1/22 — 8/7/22

This was a good week.  The average temperature went from 110 to a mere 99 so I played a little tennis with my sister on Tuesday.  I played a little golf on Wednesday.  I turns out that I’m not particularly good at either one of those activities but still, it was nice to get out for a bit.  I’ve been told that my backhand is as cute as it is inefficient and apparently, the same is true of my swing.  Oh well.  I had fun!

You may have noticed that, after two rather low-key months, the site came alive this week.  That was by design.  I can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve got in store for the rest of 2022!

Here’s what I watched, read, and listened to this week!

Films I Watched:

  1. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
  2. A Day To Die (2022)
  3. Drawn Into The Night (2010)
  4. Gold (2022)
  5. Guns (1990)
  6. The Longest Yard (1974)
  7. A Mighty Wind (2003)
  8. Planet Dune (2021)
  9. The Sinister Squad (2016)
  10. The Stranger (1995)
  11. Ted K (2022)

Television Shows I Watched:

  1. Allo Allo
  2. The Bachelortte
  3. Big Brother
  4. Breaking Bad
  5. The Challenge
  6. CHiPs
  7. Diff’rent Strokes
  8. Family Ties
  9. Fantasy Island
  10. Full House
  11. Ghost Whisperer
  12. Hart to Hart
  13. Inspector Lewis
  14. King of the Hill
  15. Kojak
  16. Magnum P.I.
  17. Medium
  18. Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead
  19. Open All Hours
  20. Taffik

Books I Read:

  1. Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed (2009) by Robert Sellers

Music To Which I Listened:

  1. Avril Lavigne
  2. Britney Spears
  3. Christina Aguilera
  4. Coldplay
  5. Demi Lovato
  6. Gorillaz
  7. Hilary Duff
  8. Jakalope
  9. Jefferson Airplane
  10. Jennifer Lopez
  11. Jessica Simpson
  12. Kid Rock
  13. Lynard Skynard
  14. Muse
  15. Phantom Planet
  16. Saint Motel
  17. Taylor Swift
  18. Tove Lo
  19. Warren Zevon


  1. The Banshees of Inisherin
  2. Cars on the Road
  3. Star Wars: Andor
  4. Devotion

News From Last Week:

  1. Archie Battersbee: 12-year-old boy dies hours after hospital ends life support against parents’ wishes
  2. Archie Battersbee: Tragic case echoes heartbreaking fight other families have faced
  3. Archie Battersbee: ‘No family should go through this’ – calls for urgent reform in light of 12-year-old’s death
  4. Clu Gulager, ‘The Virginian’ and ‘Return of the Living Dead’ Actor, Dies at 93
  5. Actor-turned-real-estate-agent John Steiner dies in a traffic collision
  6. Roger E. Mosley, ‘Magnum, P.I.’ star, dies at 83 after a car crash
  7. James Franco To Play Fidel Castro In ‘Alina Of Cuba’; Mía Maestro Also Set Opposite Ana Villafañe
  8. Jake Gyllenhaal-Starring ‘Road House’ Reboot Gets Green Light at Prime Video
  9. Michael K. Williams was high on drugs meeting Obama, posthumous memoir reveals
  10. Noah Baumbach’s ‘White Noise’ to Open 2022 NY Film Festival
  11. Batgirl’ Won’t Fly: Warner Bros. Discovery Has No Plans to Release Nearly Finished $90 Million Film
  12. The Dish: What’s Behind The ‘Batgirl’ & ‘Scoob!’ Discard? David Zaslav’s Abject Rejection Of Jason Kilar’s HBO Max Strategy
  13. Warner Bros. Is Facing Mounting Pressure To Axe “The Flash” Amid Ezra Miller’s Controversial Behavior And After Ditching $90M Movie “Batgirl”
  14. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO Defends Axing ‘Batgirl’: ‘We’re Not Going to Put a Movie Out Unless We Believe in It’
  15. ‘iCarly’ Star Jennette McCurdy Claims Nickelodeon Offered Her $300,000 to Stay Quiet on Alleged Abuse
  16. HBO Max, Discovery+ to Merge Into Single Streaming Platform Starting in Summer 2023
  17. John Leguizamo Slams James Franco’s Casting as Fidel Castro: ‘He Ain’t Latino! How Is This Still Going On?’
  18. Film Producer Janet Yang Elected First Asian American President Of The Academy
  19. Anne Heche ‘stable’ after suffering severe burns in Los Angeles car accident

Links From Last Week:

  1. Bob Rafelson, 1933-2022
  2. I’ve won an award!!
  3. The Magical Beauty Of Venice Italy At Night! From Watery San Marco Square’s Live Music To The Smallest Streets!
  4. The World’s Common Tater’s Week in Books, Movies, and TV 8/5/22

Links From The Site:

  1. Jeff reviewed Big City Blues, Avenger, Body Slam, Beavis and Butthead, The Shooter, The Boy Who Drank Too Much, Rock Scissors Paper, The Case of the Wicked Wives, and Homicide: The Movie!
  2. Jeff shared music videos from Alicia Keys, Stone Sour, Ana Johnsson, Snow Patrol, Phantom Planet, Sum 41, and Depeche Mode!
  3. Jeff wrote about Spider-Man as a generational figure, Spider-Man as a cartoon, and Spider-Man as a frustrated job applicant!
  4. Erin shared Ahead, The Armchair Detective, Adventure, Detective Novel, Dime Detective Magazine, Snappy Stories, and Dolls and Guns!
  5. Erin celebrated Dinosaur Day and our mom’s doll collection!
  6. Erin reviewed Retreat to Paradise!
  7. Leonard shared the trailer for The Banshees on Insherin!
  8. I reviewed Clue, Blood Games, Undercover, Shanghai 13, Speed, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Infernal Library, Gerry, The Last Days, Engagement Party, Message From Nam, FTA, Johnny Got His Gun, Scared Straight, Scared Straight: 20 Years Later, Scared Straight: Another Story, Hellraisers, A Day to Die, Drawn Into The Night, Robot Jox, Justin Perry: The Assassin, Traffik, Ted K, Mafia, Gold, and Vatican Kill!
  9. I paid tribute to J. Lee Thompson, Wes Craven, John Huston, Andy Warhol, Umberto Lenzi, and Nicholas Ray!
  10. I shared scenes from Skyfall and Guardians of the Galaxy! 
  11. I shared 8 things that I am looking forward to in August and an AMV of the Day!  I also shared my week in television!  I also took a look at the making of Taxi Driver!

More From Us:

  1. Ryan has a patreon, where he now publishes his reviews!  Consider subscribing!
  2. At Days Without Incident, Leonard shared a song by Bob Moses and Zhu!
  3. At Pop Politics, Jeff shared Dear Kansas This Is Your Chance, Forward?, Looking Over Last Night’s Results, Happy Birthday to the TRS-80, Marilyn and Abe, Questions of the Day, Finally Some Good News, Greetings To Those Above, and Good News!
  4. At her photography site, Erin shared Painting, Painting 2, Painting 3, Painting 4, Painting 5, Painting 6, and Painting 7!
  5. At my music site, I celebrated the past with songs by Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Hilary Duff, Britney Spears, Coldplay, Avril Lavigne, and Phantom Planet!
  6. At SyFy Designs, I shared: August 1st, The Longest Yard, A Little Poetry (Not My Own) To Start the Day, Some Days, Time For Some Lake Therapy, Checking In With Next Door, and Archie Battersbee, RIP!
  7. I wrote about Big Brother for the Big Brother Blog!
  8. For Reality TV Chat Blog, I shared Week 4 Veto Meeting, Kyle and Alyssa, It’s Time To Open Up The Diary Room For Week 4, , About Tonight, Week 5 Nominations, and Delusions!
  9. At my online dream journal, I shared Beach Dream, History Class Dream, Spy Dream, Fire Dream, High School Theater Dream, Deep Ellum Dream, and Storage Locker Dream!
  10. At Horror Critic, I reviewed Sinister Squad, Planet Dune, King of the Lost World, Terror at London Bridge, Bigfoot, and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged!

Here’s what I did last week!

Homicide: The Movie (2001, directed by Jean de Segoznac)

Before The Wire, there was Homicide: Life On The Streets.

Based on a non-fiction book by the Baltimore Sun’s David Simon, Homicide: Life on the Streets aired for seven seasons on NBC, from 1993 to 1999. For five of those seasons, Homicide was the best show on television. Produced and occasionally directed by Barry Levinson, Homicide was filmed on location in Baltimore and it followed a group of Homicide detectives as they went about their job. From the start, the show had a strong and diverse ensemble, made up of actors like Andre Braugher, Ned Beatty, Jon Polito, Melissa Leo, Kyle Secor, Clark Johnson, Richard Belzer, Daniel Baldwin, and Yaphet Kotto. When Polito’s character committed suicide at the start of the third season (in a storyline that few other shows would have had the courage to try), he was replaced in the squad by Reed Diamond.

Homicide was a show that was willing to challenge the assumptions of its audiences. The murders were not always solved. The detectives didn’t always get along.  Some of them, like Clark Johnson’s Meldrick Lewis, had such bad luck at their job that it was cause for alarm whenever they picked up the ringing phone. As played by Andre Braugher, Frank Pembleton may have been the most brilliant detective in Baltimore but his brilliance came with a price and his non-stop intensity even led to him having a stroke while interrogating a prisoner. Kyle Secor played Pembleton’s partner, Tim Bayliss.  Bayliss went from being an idealistic rookie to a mentally unstable veteran murder cop in record time, spending seven seasons obsessing on his first unsolved case. Homicide dealt with big issues and, much like its spiritual successor The Wire, it refused to offer up easy solutions.

Despite the critical acclaim and a much hyped second season appearance by Robin Williams (playing a father who was outraged to hear the detectives joking about the murder of his family), Homicide was never a ratings success. After five seasons of perennially being on the verge of cancellation, the producers of Homicide finally caved into NBC’s demands.  The storylines became more soapy and the cases went form being random and tragic to being what the detectives had previously dismissively called “stone cold whodunits.”   New detectives joined the squad and the focus shifted away from the more complex veterans. Not only did this not improve ratings but also those who had been watching the show from the start were not happy to see Pembleton and Bayliss being pushed to the side for new characters like Paul Falsone (Jon Seda) and Laura Ballard (Callie Thorne). Falsone, in particular, was so disliked that there was even an “I Hate Falsone” website. At the end of the sixth season, Andre Braugher left the show and that was the end. The seventh season limped along, with Bayliss growing increasingly unstable.  The show ended with the implication of Bayliss turning into a vigilante and resigning from the Baltimore PD. It was not a satisfying ending. Richard Belzer’s John Munch moved to New York and became a regular on Law & Order: SVU but the rest of the detectives and their fates were left in limbo.

Fortunately, on February 13th, 2000, NBC gave Homicide another chance to have a proper conclusion with Homicide: The Movie.

Homicide: The Movie opens with a montage of Baltimore at its best and its worst, a reminder that Homicide never abandoned the city that had supported it for seven years.  While other shows recreated New York or Chicago on a soundstage, Homicide was always an authentic product of Baltimore. Lt. Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto) is now running for mayor on a platform calling for drug legalization. When Giardello is shot at a campaign stop, all of the current and former members of the Homicide Unit come together to investigate the case.   While Giardello fights for his life, Pembleton and Bayliss partner up for one final time.

Homicide: The Movie fixes the main mistake that was made by the final two seasons of the show. Though all of the detectives get their moment in the spotlight (and all true Homicide fans will be happy to see Richard Belzer and Ned Beatty acting opposite each other for one final time), the focus is firmly on Pembleton and Bayliss. It doesn’t take long for these two former detectives, both of whom left the unit for their own different reasons, to start picking up on each other’s rhythms. Soon, they’re talking, arguing, and sometimes joking as if absolutely no time has passed since they were last partnered up together. But, one thing has changed. Bayliss now has a secret and if anyone can figure it out, it will be Frank Pembleton. What will Pembleton, the moral crusader, do when he finds out that Bayliss is now a killer himself?

The movie follows the detectives as they search for clues, interview suspects, and complain about the state of the world.  However, in the best Homicide tradition, the investigation is just a launching point to investigate what it means to be right or wrong in a city as troubled as Baltimore.  In the movie’s final half, it becomes more than just a reunion movie of a show that had a small but fervent group of fans. It becomes an extended debate about guilt, morality, and what it means to take responsibility for one’s actions. The final few scenes even take on the supernatural, allowing Jon Polito and Daniel Baldwin a chance to appear in the reunion despite the previous deaths of their characters.

Despite being one the best shows in the history of television, Homicide: Life on the Streets is not currently streaming anywhere, not even on Peacock.   (Considering how many Homicide people later went on to work on both Oz and The Wire, it would seem like it should be a natural fit for HBOMax.) From what I understand, this is because of the show’s signature use of popular music would make it prohibitively expensive to pay for the streaming rights. Fortunately, every season has been released on home video.   Homicide: The Movie is on YouTube, with the music removed.  The movie’s final montage is actually more effective when viewed in complete silence.

Book Review: Vatican Kill by John D. Revere

Justin Perry, the assassin, is back!

And he’s just as screwed up as usual.

Continuing the theme of the first Justin Perry novel, 1983’s Vatican Kill finds the CIA still battling the evil plans of SADIF.  A Nazi sympathizer named Carl Werner is working as a gardener at the Vatican and masterminding SADIF’s European operations.  Justin Perry’s boss, the enigmatic Old Man, not only wants Werner to die, he wants it to be such a cruel and sadistic death that it will send a message to all of America’s enemies.  Among Werner’s many crimes is developing a nuclear warhead that SADIF is planning to fire at Venus in an attempt to wow the world.  Unfortunately, as a scientist helpfully explains at the start of the book, blowing up Venus will also destroy the universe so the stakes are pretty high!

The reader might assume that, with the future of the universe at stake, Justin Perry might actually focus on his job for once.  The reader would be wrong.  The world’s greatest assassin is just as easily distracted in this book as he was in the second.  When I reviewed the first book, I mentioned my theory that the series was meant to be a satiric.  Justin Perry was just too weird and sex-obsessed to be viewed as anything other than a parody of the traditional, hypermasculine pulp hero.  There are definitely elements of satire in Vatican Kill but, oddly enough, there are also several passages in which Perry sincerely contemplates why he cannot accept the idea of a benevolent God, passages that suggest that the author was trying to make some sort of larger point about the mysteries of existence.  Of course, there are also several overheated flashbacks to a childhood trip to India, during which Perry both lost his virginity and he witnessed a train crash rather than run over a cow.  Just as in the first book, it turns out that everything that happened in his past is connected to what’s happening in the present….

It’s a weird book.  To be honest, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of some of the weird things that happen in Vatican Kill.  Justin Perry is as obsessed with sex and violence as ever while the villains of SADIF continue to come up with with elaborate tortures.  (This book didn’t do much to help me with my fear of dogs.)  I haven’t even gotten into Werner’s demand that Justin Perry assassinate the King and Queen of Spain for …. reasons, I guess.  Just as with the first book, describing the plot of Vatican Kill probably makes it sound more interesting than it actually is.  As over the top as all of the action and the scheming is, the prose describing it is fairly mundane and the author continually gets lost in Perry’s ruminations about God and the past.  I have to admit that I read the book very quickly, first because it was called Vatican Kill and I can only imagine what my Spanish and Italian grandmothers would have thought about that and secondly, because Justin Perry was such a creepy character that I really didn’t want to spend too much time with him.  The book ended on a note so grotesque that I washed my hands afterwards.  Seriously, Justin Perry was one messed up dude!

Film Review: Gold (dir by Anthony Hayes)

If you’ve ever wanted to see Zac Efron covered in flies, Gold is the film for you!

Actually, I’m being perhaps a bit more snarky than I should be.  Gold is actually a pretty good movie and Zac Efron deserves a lot of credit for trying something different.  That said, when all is said and done, I think the thing that most people will remember about this movie will be the flies.  Efron plays a character who spends several days stranded in the desert.  As we all know from watching any of the films that Clint Eastwood made with Sergio Leone, the desert is full of flies and there’s nothing they like more than to land on the blisters on someone’s sun-baked face.  So, it makes sense that Efron spends the majority of the film dealing with flies.  Of course, he also has to deal with feral desert dogs, a mysterious stranger who may or may not exist, and a freak dust storm.

Gold takes place in the near future.  Gold was filmed in Australia and, in many ways, it seems to take place in the same cinematic universe as the first Mad Max.  It’s the early days of a dystopia, when there’s still enough comforts around for people to pretend that things can still be normal.  People still watch television.  They still drive cars.  They still use telephones.  There’s still some sort of government that is supposedly in charge of things.  Society still exists but all around are clues that it is in the process of collapsing.  Things are on the verge of changing and they won’t be for the better.

Zac Efron plays Virgil, a man who wants to go to some place known as the Compound.  Keith (played by Anthony Hayes) has been hired to drive Virgil through the desert.  From the start, Keith and Virgil don’t get along.  Keith gets angry at Virgil for wasting water.  He gets even angrier when Virgil turns up the air conditioning in Keith’s truck and causes the motor to overheat.  However, when Keith and Virgil come across a giant gold nugget in the desert, they become reluctant partners.  When Keith heads to another town to get an excavator so they can dig up the gold, Virgil remains in the desert.  His job is to guard the gold, though one has to wonder who he thinks he’s guarding it from.  Virgil is literally in the middle of nowhere.

Keith leaves Virgil with a set of instructions of how to survive in the desert.  However, within hours of Keith leaving, Virgil starts to lose it.  He doesn’t have enough water.  He doesn’t have enough food.  Keith has taken the truck so it’s not like Virgil could go anywhere, even if he was willing to abandon the gold.  There are feral dogs all around.  There are flies on Virgil’s face.  And there are other scavengers in the desert as well….

There’s really not much of a story to Gold.  Virgil waits in the desert and loses his mind, all because he’s not willing to surrender that gold.  He’s a victim of his own greed, which admittedly is not the most original idea in the world.  (Consider the case of Fred C. Dobbs, for instance.)  That said, you do have to admire Efron’s willingness to allow himself to look absolutely terrible on screen.  From the flies to the dust storm to the scorching sun, the film goes out of its way to destroy Efron’s good looks but there’s a bigger meaning to it beyond Efron’s well-known desire to be taken seriously as an actor.  With each fly and speck of dust that lands on Efron’s face, Gold reminds the viewer that the desert will always win.  The desert and the animals that call it home don’t care about gold and they certainly don’t care about their prey.  In the desert, it’s all about survival.  Civilization may collapse but the desert will remain forever.

Visually, there’s a harsh beauty to Gold.  The desert is both frightening and fascinating at the same time and the scenes of Efron frame against the landscape really do drive home the film’s point.  One way or the other, the desert will always win.